First-of-its-Kind Study Identifies Institutional Racism as Main Driver of Black Homelessness

More than 100 county, city, and community leaders gathered today to highlight racial disparities and address systemic racism in public policy affecting Black people experiencing homelessness across Los Angeles County.

Black people make up 9% of the population of LA County, but more than one-third of its population experiencing homelessness—an overrepresentation that is consistent demographically across other jurisdictions in the United States. A groundbreaking new report by LAHSA’s Ad Hoc Committee on Black People Experiencing Homelessness sheds light on why, and puts forth a broad set of targeted recommendations to reverse this injustice.

The report, a culmination of nine months of work by the 26-member Ad Hoc Committee, includes 67 recommendations to create a broad framework that will advance equity and eliminate disparities that impact Black people experiencing homelessness across LA County. The report is the first step of a dynamic process of collaboration between stakeholders to implement recommendations, which include interweaving a racial equity lens throughout homelessness policy and service delivery systems as well as across public, private, and philanthropic institutions.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas speaks to more than 100 county, city, and community leaders. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

A theme that cut across the committee’s work was that racism, discrimination, and unconscious bias in our public systems and institutions has contributed to, and remains intertwined with, homelessness. Ending homelessness will require a collective commitment to dismantling racism and addressing racial disparities, and sustained support from funders, policymakers, mainstream systems of care, service providers, and community partners. The report highlights persistent cases of systemic bias in policies affecting housing, employment, criminal justice, and child welfare—and identifies ways to advance racial equity in our homeless services system.

“This report is a critical first step to address the collective failings of systems and institutions that—de facto and de jure—have been designed to deliver the painful disparities that affect so many of our brothers and sisters,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.  “Hard work lies ahead to counter this tragic inheritance. If our region is to prosper, it is not only a moral imperative, it is an absolute economic imperative that all who call Los Angeles home are able to attain their full measure of dignity and self-worth.”

“This study finally proves what we have known all along: that there is a clear connection between race and homelessness,” said Los Angeles City Councilmember Curren Price. “In order for us to fully address the humanitarian crisis of our time, we will have to take the corrective steps to combat racial inequality and disparities in America. I wholeheartedly believe that we can and will overcome such a catastrophe so as long as we come together, get to the root of the problem and deal with this emergency with urgency. The time is now.”

“We have long understood the painful reality that a disproportionate number of African-Americans are caught in the grip of homelessness—and we have to be more intentional about how to confront and end this crisis,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. “This report puts the spotlight where it needs to be, and helps us focus efforts on the individuals, families, and communities that need the most help.”

(left to right) Councilmember Curren Price, LAHSA Commission Chair Kelli Bernard, Mayor Eric Garcetti, Ad Hoc Committee Chair Jacqueline Waggoner, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Rev. Cecil L. Murray, LA County Mental Health Commissioner with Lived Experience Reba Stevens, Race Forward President Glenn Harris. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

“Homelessness is the greatest issue facing Los Angeles and racism is amplifying the impacts of economic inequality and housing access,” said Los Angeles City Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson. “Now is the time to directly address the root causes of homelessness and racism remains one of the biggest causes.”

LAHSA Commissioner Jacqueline Waggoner, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee and VP and Southern California Market Leader of Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

“This report is a launching pad for a new level of collaboration,” said LAHSA Commissioner Jacqueline Waggoner, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee and VP and Southern California Market Leader of Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. “It reflects a diversity of voices, including people who have experienced homelessness, service providers, and community members, and creates a blueprint for change. This is just the beginning of the work, and we will keep applying a racial equity lens to our systems and policies as we move forward.”

“Only by acknowledging and naming the painful truth about how our systems and policies have created these unjust racial disparities can we do the hard work together to reverse them,” said Kelli Bernard, chair of the LAHSA Commission and vice chair of the Ad Hoc committee. “I’m hopeful about the impact we can make by attacking these systemic obstacles in such an intentional way, and the lives that can be changed for the better as a result.”

A summary of insights and recommendations from the report is listed below. Additional resources:

LA County CDC & HACoLA Executive Director Monique King-Viehland. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

Summary of Key Insights from the Report

  • For lasting change to occur, institutional barriers across agencies and mainstream systems must be dismantled to eliminate the racial disparities and systemic racism affecting Black people experiencing homelessness.
  • The mounting affordable housing crisis across the state, especially in the Los Angeles region, paired with persistently low, stagnant, and declining wages, exacerbates homelessness and particularly affects Black people.
  • The interconnectedness of incarceration and homelessness creates a revolving door that only serves to make the plight of homelessness more challenging and complex.
  • Black people experiencing homelessness have disproportionately high rates of child welfare system involvement.
  • Care and empathy are crucial components of outreach and case management services—and of policy and program design. These components must be embedded within agency leadership and decision-making bodies that support direct service delivery. When asked, “What would have kept you from becoming homeless?” participants, in different words, responded, “having someone who cared about me.”
  • The inclusion of Black people with lived experience of homelessness in all aspects of program and policy design, implementation, evaluation, and service delivery, is critical to ensuring that programs and services effectively meet the needs of those they are intended to serve.
  • The quality of interim housing varies across facilities, and for some, living in a shelter can be a traumatizing or re-traumatizing experience.
  • Despite local investment to expand the permanent housing resources within the Los Angeles County Coordinated Entry System (CES), a gap in housing availability remains, as the number of participants in need of permanent housing resources greatly exceeds the available supply.
  • This scarcity of resources often results in people living in unsheltered conditions or in interim housing for extended periods of time. Although CES appears to place Black people experiencing homelessness into housing at proportional rates, Black people served through CES permanent housing interventions experienced a higher rate of returns to homelessness than all other race and ethnic groups. This points to a significant need for further research to better understand what is causing this disparity and what additional supports are needed to improve housing stability and retention.

Summary of Report Recommendations

  • Improve data collection, analysis, and collaborative research to better understand and track issues affecting Black people experiencing homelessness.
  • Advance racially equitable policies, programs, and funding across institutions, including LAHSA, homeless service providers, and city and county agencies.
  • Enhance cross-system collaboration and partnerships to more effectively prevent and reduce the time spent in homelessness and improve housing retention and stability for Black people experiencing homelessness.
  • Expand capacity building and training opportunities to ensure service providers understand the impact of institutional racism and racial bias on Black people experiencing homelessness.
  • Target investments and funding enhancements to initiatives aimed at reducing disparities and ensuring sufficient funding for services and programs supporting Black people experiencing homelessness.
  • Implement targeted improvements to service delivery within the Los Angeles County CES and other systems of care in which Black people experiencing homelessness are overrepresented, to address barriers and improve outcomes for Black people.
  • Expand advocacy at federal, state, and local government levels for progressive and racially equitable policies, programs, and (direct or indirect) funding impacting Black people experiencing homelessness.

The State Steps Up on Homelessness

Statement by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas on the Creation of a Statewide Commission on Homelessness and Affordable Housing

 

“I applaud Governor Gavin Newsom for creating the Commission on Homelessness and Affordable Housing and enabling the State of California to have a larger role in tackling the defining civic and moral crises of our time.

“Los Angeles County is the epicenter of these crises, accounting for about 40 percent of the state’s homeless population. Almost exactly two years ago, we took the unprecedented step of declaring a state of emergency and placing Measure H on the ballot. This initiative has now taken tens of thousands of people off the streets and into housing, and prevented many more of our neighbors from falling into homelessness.

“Given the dire shortage of affordable housing, however, the situation remains tenuous. I applaud the Governor for stepping up to the plate, and I look forward to working with Mayor Darrell Steinberg and the Commission to continue developing innovative and effective strategies to address homelessness.”

L.A. County Engages Tech Industry in the Fight Against Homelessness

The Los Angeles County Chief Executive Office/Homeless Initiative and the Chief Information Office have launched a new initiative to enlist the technology industry in the Countywide effort to prevent and combat homelessness. In a bold move to harness the resources and expertise of tech companies and foster more strategic investment in the sector, L.A. County issued a call for solutions with the potential to creatively accelerate outcomes for people experiencing homelessness. A broad industry representation, including large data and tech companies, civic tech, start-ups, digital services, virtual reality firms and academia, have already signaled their strong interest in partnering on this critical effort, with upwards of 150 participants convened at a recent County-hosted technology innovation forum on homelessness.

The Countywide movement is seeking diverse partners and new approaches to deliver what’s working more effectively and to foster inspired thinking and sustainable solutions around housing, data, customer empowerment and operational effectiveness. Submissions are due mid-November.

“Los Angeles County is partnering with technology companies to harness skills, ideas and innovation that will accelerate and scale up solutions to house people experiencing homelessness,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas who championed Measure H. “This is Measure H at work – creating thoughtful and inventive ways to help our most vulnerable residents so that we can create communities with dignity and purpose for all who call Los Angeles home.”

“As L.A. County continues to work to prevent and combat homelessness, we are always working to expand collaborative efforts with new partners who are willing and able to help,” said Supervisor Hilda L. Solis. “Homelessness is a complex and multi-faceted problem, and partners in the technology industry offer uniquely valuable expertise. L.A. County is leaving no stone unturned, no option unexplored, in the fight to ensure everyone has a home.”

“Combating a homelessness crisis of this magnitude will require that we create partnerships across many sectors,” said Supervisor Kathryn Barger. “Working with stakeholders in the technology sector enables public partners to innovate more quickly and measure their success more effectively.”

“The Homeless Innovation Technology Initiative marries tech talent with the real challenges surrounding homelessness in L.A. County. The tech community is coming together to create tangible innovative solutions,” said Bill Kehoe, Los Angeles County Chief Information Officer.

Homeowners Can Help in the Fight Against Homelessness

The Board of Supervisors is making it easier for homeowners to build or convert existing spaces into Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), also known as “backyard houses” or “granny flats.” The goal: to help increase the region’s seriously depleted housing stock though the development of safe and livable low-cost housing options.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas underscored the importance of ADUs in the fight against homelessness. “Addressing a shortage of more than 550,000 affordable units across Los Angeles County will require the expedient deployment of different types of housing, and ADUs are a great way for single family properties to be part of the solution,” he said. “It puts rent income into homeowners’ pockets, without altering the character of their neighborhoods.”

He recently hosted workshops at the Exposition Park Constituent Service and Training Center for homeowners curious about building, fixing up or legalizing a rental on their property. Click on the links below to learn more.

Seeking to catalyze the community of architects, designers, planners and creative strategists to re-imagine the potential of ADUs, the County’s Art Commission launched Part of the Solution: Yes to ADU in partnership with the County’s Homeless Initiative, Department of Regional Planning and Community, and Development Commission.

In January 2018, it announced the winners of an ADU design competition. Participants included ranged from students to established practitioners, who assembled a tangible index of possibilities that can help policymakers, architects and homeowners implement ADUs in their communities.

 

Supportive Housing Takes Center Stage at Summit

CSH’s Deborah De Santis, Mayor Eric Garcetti, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and United Way’s Elise Buik. Photo by Bryan Chan

More than 1,000 people gathered at the nation’s only summit on supportive housing and heard Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Mayor Eric Garcetti talk about Los Angeles’ passage of ballot initiatives that will collectively raise an unprecedented $5 billion over a decade to address homelessness.

Since voters approved Measure H and Proposition HHH in late 2016 and early 2017, Los Angeles has become an epicenter of supportive housing activity. This prompted the Corporation for Supportive Housing to select Los Angeles as the host of its 2018 summit, which drew attendees from across the US, as well as Canada and New Zealand. The summit included several interactive sessions designed to encourage dialogue and an exchange of ideas.

During the plenary session, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, Mayor Garcetti, and United Way CEO Elise Buik participated in a panel entitled Leveraging Local Political Will to Create Supportive Housing.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said, “We simply seek to scale up our consciousness, our compassion, and our capacity to address homelessness.”

Buik said, “I don’t want to see anyone suffer on our streets. We are creating a movement of people who care deeply about this issue and are part of the solution.” Mayor Garcetti added, “We are here to end homelessness.”

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas championed Measure H, a quarter-cent Los Angeles County sales tax that seeks to end homelessness for 45,000 people in the first five years, and prevent homelessness for another 30,000 people. Mayor Garcetti championed Proposition HHH, a Los Angeles City bond measure that will finance the construction of 8,00 to 10,000 supportive housing units for the chronically homeless. United Way played a crucial role in the campaign to pass both ballot initiatives.

According to the 2018 Homeless Count, the number of people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles County has fallen for the first time in four years to 53,195 — a three percent decline.