Between 2017 and 2019, homelessness increased by 43 percent in Alameda County, California and unsheltered homelessness grew by 63 percent. The upsurge in homelessness is plain to see throughout the county, where tents fill parks, highway underpasses and median strips, and RVs line the streets. The 2019 Point in Time Count also brought attention to racial disparities in the homeless population: Black and Native American people are homeless at a rate 4 times greater than in the general population. Despite our efforts, it was clear that current systems were not meeting the needs of people experiencing homelessness, particularly people of color.

Collective Impact

To confront the sharp increase in unsheltered homelessness and marked racial disparities, the Oakland-Berkeley-Alameda County, California Continuum of Care, EveryOne Home, worked with Abt Associates (a HUD-provided technical assistance consultancy). Together we worked to model a high performing homeless response system. The project became a nearly year-long collaborative effort first to develop a data-driven racial equity analysis and then to apply this equity lens to designing a system that can respond effectively to homelessness in our community.

Racial Equity Impact Analysis

The system modeling process begins by looking at population and performance data to understand the needs of households experiencing homelessness. Then communities use that knowledge to envision a system that could respond fully to all households experiencing homelessness.

Overall, our system shows very high rates of people becoming homeless combined with low rates of permanent housing exits; for every 1 person who obtained permanent housing in 2019 nearly 3 people became homeless for the first time. This inflow-outflow dynamic is at the center of the 43% increase in homelessness in Alameda County between 2017 and 2019. However, the data showed that Black and Native Americans entered homelessness for the first time and returned to homelessness at higher rates than other racial and ethnic groups.

Centering Racial Equity in Homeless System Design

The Racial Equity Impact Analysis is the heart of our approach to infusing racial equity in homeless system design. Steps to take when integrating Racial Equity Impact Analysis into system modeling include:

  • Always disaggregate population and system performance data by race and ethnicity.
  • Identify the root causes of homelessness that underpin the over-representation of people of color—particularly Black and Native Americans.
  • Understand how aspects of the homeless system and housing market work to benefit or burden people of color.
  • Pinpoint opportunities to overcome structural and systemic barriers and develop strategies to advance racial equity within the homeless system.
  • Formulate key elements of a model homeless system through this racial equity lens, including designing new types of housing and support service programs as well as the optimal inventory and service levels.
  • Develop recommendations to more effectively and equitably allocate resources, prioritize investments, and advance proactive, targeted strategies to end homelessness.

Read the full article about homeless system design at National Alliance to End Homelessness.