Housing Forward addresses race and homelessnessdfwnewsa | December 23, 2023 | 0 | Dallas News
(The Dallas Examiner) – For the fourth installment of Hard Conversations: The Impact of Race in Creating & Addressing Homelessness, the Housing Forwardorganization brought in Dr. Earl J. Edwards to share his thoughts on the effects of structural racism in homelessness. Edwards’ professional work focuses on researching the intersections of race, education, housing and creating systems to combat racial inequities.
There is an overrepresentation of Black people experiencing homelessness in Dallas and around the country, according to Housing Forward executives, Joli Angel Robinson and Rececca Hickom, who co-hosted of the webinar. The co-hosts presented background information and statistics on homelessness. The disparities are due to issues such as discrimination and urban renewal, wherein Black families are pushed out of their homes due to the “revitalization” of their neighborhoods and subsequent housing price increase. Blacks also remain in the homeless population longer than any other race, in addition to making up the largest part of that population.
“There is a lack of racial equity – no policies to ensure that non-Whites’ housing needs are short-lived,” Edwards added.
While Black people experience homelessness at a higher rate than any other race, Blacks have received the least amount of support with becoming housed in shelters and affordable housing.
“Why do we still see inequities regarding race and homelessness?” Hickom posed the question.
Edwards suggested that there are historical factors impacting the continuance of inequality. Ingrained institutional racism affects how lending institutions operate. Racial biases, both explicit and implicit, also cause inequities.
“When you have a tight housing market, more discrimination is going to happen. Now you have more opportunities to create additional barriers for folks to be able to actually have housing. It creates this downward impact on marginalized people,” Edwards said.
In Edwards’ article Who Are the Homeless? Centering Anti-Black Racism and the Consequences of Colorblind Homeless Policies, he explained that the Public Identity Framework utilizes controlling images and cultural narratives to construct and manipulate public perceptions that impact discourse and ultimately influence policy decisions.
He further explained that public identity is a constellation created to weaponize for a purpose, i.e., for pushing particular political agendas. During the Reagan administration, the U.S. government was faced with the task of determining who would become the face of homelessness. Would it be the physically disabled? Or perhaps Veterans? What about Black people? The outside perception would play a large part in gaining resources for the homelessness agenda. When it comes to Blacks and homelessness, there is less of a desire to dedicate efforts toward solutions.
“Different images of homelessness will result in different support from the public,” Edwards said.
The financial factor
Unemployment rates also play a factor in housing inequities.
“Another part to that nuance is underemployment. So those are folks who have jobs but are working part-time even though they would rather work full-time. Historically that number is large for Black people,” Edwards explained.
As of November, the unemployment rate for White Texans was 2.9%, while for Black Texans it was 6.3%.
Edwards went on to present an example of how an impoverished network developed and resulted in more unhoused citizens. Someone may not have the money for repairs when their car breaks down, but all of their family and friends are also financially strained, so they aren’t able to borrow money from anyone. They then turn to public transportation in order to get to and from work, but since it is sometimes unreliable, they are constantly late and get fired as a result. The person then loses their ability to pay rent. Their family can’t allow them to live in their home since they are also renters and there are rules against moving additional people in. The person then falls into homelessness.
“It’s not only one individual that’s facing financial insecurity; it’s their network facing financial insecurity,” Edwards explained.
He also believed there has not been enough conversation surrounding children who experience homelessness. Many parents will not inform their child’s school about their family’s housing situation because they don’t want Child Protective Services to become involved. This eliminates an avenue of possible assistance as school administrators, if informed of a housing need, would be able to reach out to the proper contacts to begin the housing process. The Dallas Housing Authority is currently creating a focus on student homelessness, according to Edwards.
Life after incarceration
Another topic presented was that of mass incarceration. It is one of the main contributors to homelessness.
“There is no system designed for Black men. They are criminalized in shelters, arrested frequently when on the streets, there is no safety net, and the prison system is the only thing that’s accessible to them. Then they’re released and find that there is no space at a shelter or available affordable housing because their spot was lost while incarcerated,” Edwards explained.
He added that there are ordinances in place in Texas that seemingly criminalize homelessness and poverty.
Many of those experiencing homelessness are from the same community where they’ve sought shelter. Edwards emphasized the importance of connecting with the unhoused and listening to their stories. Oftentimes, they have the knowledge about when things began to change in their neighborhood and the backstory to current conditions.
“Securing housing for displaced citizens is just the beginning. It is a must that they be re-connected with their family and community,” Edwards said.