The Intersection of Homelessness, Race, and the COVID-19 Crisis

This post is authored by Va Lecia Adams Kellum, Ph.D., President
and CEO of St. Joseph Center in Los Angeles. 

On any given night in America, there are over 500,000 people who
are homeless. Many suffer from chronic health conditions and
have limited access to health care. This is an untenable
situation, one that is not only a moral issue, but also a public
health crisis. Allowing so many people to remain unsheltered has
always been a time bomb waiting to go off. And with the COVID-19
crisis, in a matter of weeks, it has.  

We still have yet to see the full fallout. But this quickly
evolving pandemic has clearly shown the vulnerabilities in our
public and private health care system, and especially how it
affects people experiencing homelessness, particularly Black
people.  

We cannot talk about this crisis without addressing race. As
more states begin to report demographics, we know that Black people
are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 (at least in the states
reported).  While we do not know the housing status of the people
in these reports, we are certainly aware of the racial disparities
that exist in the homelessness system.  In Los Angeles, for
example, with 60,000 people experiencing homelessness, roughly 40%
of them are Black while only making up 9% of the population. Akin
to national rates, Black people in L.A. suffer
disproportionately from underlying medical conditions
that put them at a higher risk
for contracting COVID-19, such as diabetes, asthma, heart
disease, and high blood pressure. When you compound the medical
vulnerabilities that disproportionately affect Black people with
their overrepresentation in the homeless population, you have a
situation that is not only alarming, but catastrophic. 

Given this, it comes as no surprise that Black and Brown people
are bearing the brunt of this pandemic.  

Last year, I sat on the Los Angeles Homeless Services
Authority’s (LAHSA) Ad Hoc Committee on Black People Experiencing
Homelessness. The goal was to drill down on how race plays into
homelessness and to make recommendations on how to eliminate
disparities. 

Some of those recommendations are being implemented now as we
combat the pandemic. At St. Joseph Center, where I am President
and CEO, we include Black people with lived experience in all our
outreach teams and service delivery. This helps shape our message
when we are out on the streets meeting the needs of vulnerable
people. We train our service providers in trauma-informed care:
They start their work with an understanding of how institutional
racism affects homelessness. They recognize the trauma of Black
people’s experiences, including trauma associated with the health
care system (e.g., the Tuskegee experiment) and recognize that the
COVID-19 emergency is only exacerbating the situation. They meet
Black people who are experiencing homelessness with empathy and
understanding. They work to see this crisis through a lens of
racial equity.  

Right now, the COVID-19 crisis is forcing our hand. Will we let
racial disparities again harm Black and Brown people
disproportionately? Will we start to track racial data so that
communities of color are not overlooked? And will we make testing
widespread, and especially for those experiencing homelessness?
The answer lies in our commitment to using a racial equity
lens when dealing with this public health emergency.  

In Los Angeles, and across the country, we are seeing
creative partnerships between public, private, and social service
agencies forming to bring immediate relief.  This is promising
– but systemic change needs to utilize a racial lens if it is to
be truly effective. 

My deepest hope is that after the COVID-19 crisis has waned,
we step up our efforts to address homelessness through a racial
equity lens.  We must use this experience to dismantle racist
structures and systems and put in place the investments and
attention that communities of color need to thrive. 

The post
The Intersection of Homelessness, Race, and the COVID-19 Crisis

appeared first on National
Alliance to End Homelessness
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