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.

Black History Month Profiles

Urban Boarding School to Rise At Vermont & Manchester

Rendering of SEED School provided by Abode Communities.

Los Angeles County will be home to the state’s first publicly-run urban boarding school, to be built at the corner of Vermont Avenue and Manchester Boulevard in South Los Angeles.

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to provide $71 million over 15 years to fund the SEED L.A. school, a state-of-the-art vocational and college preparatory that will draw students from the County child welfare system, probation facilities and the surrounding communities.

“For too long our community has asked the County to revitalize this site, and today we commit not only to revitalizing it, but to catalyzing it by delivering educational opportunity, economic development and guaranteed prospects for employment,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Funding for the school will be matched by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which seeks to create a pipeline of graduates with the necessary skills to either go to college or enter the transportation infrastructure industry.

“Metro is in the midst of implementing the largest and most ambitious infrastructure expansion program in the United States, but 40 percent of our workforce is eligible to retire in the next five years,” said Metro CEO Phillip A. Washington. “The same thing is happening across the transportation industry and it’s critical to our mission—and to the transportation industry—that we recruit, educate and hire the workforce of tomorrow. That is the reason that the SEED School of Los Angeles County is an essential, forward-looking program worth pursuing and funding.”

The SEED Foundation has earned national praise for its innovative model that integrates a rigorous academic curriculum with a nurturing boarding program. It currently operates three schools, one each in Washington D.C., Baltimore and Miami. The Los Angeles school will serve approximately 400 students in grades 9-12.

“SEED is thrilled to be coming to Los Angeles,” said Lesley Poole, CEO of the Seed Foundation. It is our intention, working with the County and with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, to provide an outstanding, college preparatory public boarding program that will provide students in the County an opportunity to realize their potential and achieve their dreams of post-secondary success.

The vote was also heralded by community advocates, who said the school’s advent opened a new pathway toward not just education, but also employment, for the community’s youth.

“I believe that this project will address the basic fundamental ills that have stunted this community’s growth and development for years,” said Pastor Anthony Williams of the 88th Street Temple. “This is not just another band aid solution for a 27-year-old wound; it’s a great start for real transformative healing that needs to take place in our community.”

The most innovative new educational project in California will be located on a formerly blighted parcel of land in South Los Angeles that had long been a source of community resentment.

In a rare move for the County, last spring the Board of Supervisors took five blighted acres on the east side of the 8400 and 8500 blocks of South Vermont by eminent domain, offering site owner Eli Sasson $15.7 million. The property had been vacant since the L.A. Riots in 1992, with only a partially burned out building remaining. The eyesore, which anchors a key corner in the neighborhood, had received more than 35 notices of violations in 26 years.

The project will now move rapidly to the development stage of the project, which in addition to the school will also include 180 units of affordable housing, retail outlets, a transit plaza and a Metro job training program.

Metro is sorely in need of well-trained workers. Almost 70 percent of Metro employees are over the age of 40, while at the same time, Measure M is estimated to generate an additional 778,000 jobs.

SEED School campus renderingprovided by Abode Communities.

Kingdom Day Parade 2019

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas with street outreach workers and advocates at the 34th Annual Kingdom Day Parade. Photo by Martin Zamora / Board of Supervisors

More than a hundred people on the frontlines of helping the homeless – from street outreach workers to advocates – joined Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas at the 34th annual Kingdom Day Parade, drawing grateful cheers and applause from the crowds in South Los Angeles.

On a day dedicated to paying tribute to the legendary civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Supervisor Ridley-Thomas also found plenty of reasons to celebrate street outreach workers, who fan out across Los Angeles County every day in search of the homeless, build a rapport with them, and offer them a wide range of services, from healthcare to housing.

85 healthcare and housing workers join Supervisor Ridley-Thomas along the parade route. Photo by Martin Zamora / Board of Supervisors

About 85 street outreach workers participated in the parade, many of them working for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the LA County Department of Mental Health or working for nonprofits such as HOPICS and St. Joseph Center, contracted by LA County Department of Health Services.

“I believe that involuntary poverty is a form of violence… and homelessness is the most extreme manifestation of involuntary poverty,’” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “Together with these street outreach workers, let us all roll up our sleeves, open our hearts, and extend our hands to help our unhoused neighbors.”

United Way of Greater Los Angeles encouraged everyone watching the parade to join its Everyone In campaign, learn more about people experiencing homelessness, stay informed on supportive housing, and seek opportunities to attend community events and advocate for solutions in each neighborhood.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas with Los Angeles Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts. Photo by Martin Zamora / Board of Supervisors

The Kingdom Day parade marked what would have been Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 90th birthday. It featured Los Angeles Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts as grand marshal, and the theme: “Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds, Healthy Democracy.”

The parade traveled on MLK Boulevard, Crenshaw Boulevard and Vernon Avenue, ending with a festival at Leimert Park. Thousands of people lined the streets to cheer on dozens of marching bands, floats, equestrian units, drill teams, dance groups, and dignitaries, including LA County Fire Chief Daryl Osby and LA City Police Chief Michel Moore, just to name a few.

Register for 28th Annual Empowerment Congress Summit

Join Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and the Empowerment Congress for the 28th Annual Empowerment Congress Summit, Communities in Peril: A Call to Action for 2020 and Beyond, on Saturday, January 18, 2020.

This year, we will reconvene at Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science, and will feature six dynamic workshops that will foster conversation around key issues impacting the Second Supervisorial District. Workshops will include:

Since its inception, the Empowerment Congress has convened an annual meeting of members, elected officials, community stakeholders, and other interested constituents to discuss the issues that directly affect the areas in which the Empowerment Congress does its work. Over the years, the reach of the summit has expanded significantly, and continues to educate, engage, and empower the residents of South Los Angeles, neighboring cities and communities in the Los Angeles County Second Supervisorial District.

Admission is free.  Lunch will be provided. Register now.