By Wave Wire Service
LOS ANGELES — County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said a new report highlighting the elevated levels of homelessness among black Angelenos is a “critical first step” in addressing the disparities affecting the African-American community.
Black people make up 9 percent of the population of Los Angeles County, but more than one-third of its population experiencing homelessness, which is consistent demographically across the country, according to a report by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority Ad Hoc Committee on Black People Experiencing Homelessness.
Ridley-Thomas was among more than 100 county, city and community leaders who gathered Feb. 25 to discuss the report at the California African American Museum in Exposition Park.
“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,” Ridley-Thomas said. “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.”
The report, which includes 67 recommendations, concludes that racism, discrimination and unconscious bias in public systems and institutions has contributed to homelessness.
“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,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said. “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.”
Among the recommendations is that the county should work to improve data collection, analysis and collaborative research to better understand and track issues affecting black people experiencing homelessness, and to advance racially equitable policies, programs and funding across institutions, homeless service providers, and city and county agencies.
“Homelessness is the greatest issue facing Los Angeles and racism is amplifying the impacts of economic inequality and housing access,” Los Angeles City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson said. “Now is the time to directly address the root causes of homelessness and racism remains one of the biggest causes.”
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 the 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.
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 launching pad for a new level of collaboration,” said Jacqueline Waggoner, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee and vice president 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 Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s 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.”
This article originally appeared in the Wave Newspapers.