Adequate healthcare is notoriously inaccessible in the United States, and especially so for communities of color. Coupled with western history’s immeasurable examples of medical racism, lack of meaningful access to physical and mental healthcare has produced marked racial disparities in health status – and thus in homelessness.

COVID-19, Health Care, and Racism

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic provides an archetypal example of racial discrimination in healthcare. While Black people in the US are 1.4 times as likely as white people to contract COVID-19, 3.7 times as likely to be hospitalized, and 2.8 times as likely to die of COVID, white people were vaccinated at a rate of 11 times that of Black people during the first month of vaccinations. Only 5.4% of those vaccinated between December 14, 2020 and January 14, 2021 were Black. Generations of medical abuse, along with access issues like the fact that Black communities tend to have fewer local pharmacies than other communities, help account for this disparity.

Bias in the Medical Field

Racism in medicine continues to this day, often in far subtler and more insidious ways. Studies indicate Black people are less likely to be believed about the severity of pain they are experiencing, and are less likely to be assigned specialists. Partly due to discrimination like this, Black people in the US have, on average, lower life expectancy, lower vaccination rates, and increased strain on mental health. Stereotyping and internalized biases on the part of health care officials means Black people often do not get access to the treatment they need, which in turn is a contributing factor to the overrepresentation of Black people among the homeless population.

Beyond Physical Health

The impact of racial discrimination is not limited to physical health. Mental healthcare professionals, too, are less likely to take the concerns of Black patients seriously compared to white patients, and people of color are more likely to be criminalized for their behavioral health needs than to receive adequate treatment. Officials are less likely to diagnose depression in Black clients, and Black patients are more likely overall to be misdiagnosed or dismissed entirely.

Taken together with the deleterious impact of frequent, ongoing racial trauma on mental health (with Black adults twenty percent more likely to report serious psychological distress than white adults), these factors create the perfect conditions for a racial mental health gap, which itself carries over into homelessness.

Read the full article about Black homelessness and health care by Tianna Kelly at National Alliance to End Homelessness.