Addressing Racism in Homelessness

By Alice Clark

On behalf of EveryOneHome, Moe Wright has announced an important report just issued by the Oakland-Berkeley-Alameda County Continuum of Care (CoC) titled “Centering Racial Equity in Homeless System Design.” This report declares the intention by the CoC to include racial equity in addressing homelessness in Alameda County.  Fully aware, as never before, of the force of structural racism in producing homelessness among people of color, CoC will use new tools and new measures to address it.

The first goal is to properly analyze the ever-increasing data on the spread of homelessness, now including an intentional focus on race.  This is done both by examining numerical data and by seeking out the voices of those impacted and interviewing them. 

In Alameda County, 69% of the homeless population are people of color, and of those, Blacks are the majority. Homelessness is surging, as more and more people are entering homelessness than those leaving it.  Structural racism across multiple systems has disproportionately impacted people of color, forcing them into homelessness. Structural racism also limits the ability of those rehoused to hold on to their housing. The rate of people moving into housing, when available, doesn’t vary by race; but Blacks have among the highest rates of return to homelessness — up to 84% become homeless again within two years. 

In the current rental market, the people most impacted by homelessness require more income than they are able to obtain; and this is disproportionately true for Blacks.

Interviews with nine focus groups help clarify how structural racism plays out.  Blacks who are victims of mass incarceration are heavily disadvantaged in finding work after their release. Barriers in the housing market, including credit score requirements and the lack of an address to apply from, keep many in poverty.  The poor experience health crises, family instability and the fraying of the family networks they rely on through deaths.  What might sustain a person, work or family or both, can be swept away.

Very low-income people need a new form of deeply subsidized housing that’s not currently found in the homeless response system.  Beyond the initial phase, not all need ongoing services as found in the Permanent Supportive Housing program.  “The model anticipates that 28% of households with only adults and 30% of households with minor children could end their homelessness with a deep housing subsidy and limited support services.” The money being raised through the passage of Measure W is coming into focus here.

 “Addressing the factors driving homelessness, namely structural racism, economic inequality, and housing shortages,” is the aim of the report.  What is absolutely required is to identify and create more housing for very low-income people:  this will address racism and homelessness together.  It goes back to the key theme of Housing First, required for essential dignity and as a base for all else.

A great deal of the report is devoted to financial modeling of different scenarios for addressing these needs, both through massive increases in funding for homeless services and programs, and by advocacy for the development, through changed policies, of the housing required.  The full report can be accessed at