Black Americans make up about thirteen percent of the U.S. population, according to the latest Census data. Yet they also make forty percent of the population of people experiencing homelessness nationwide. In DC, the figures are similar- about half of the capital’s residents are Black, but Black people make up fully 88% of people without homes in the city. Similarly, in contradiction to the relatively small percentage of the total population they comprise, Black people account for upwards of thirty percent of civilians killed in police interactions, and are killed by police at around 2.5 times the rate of white people on a national scale. Because of overcriminalization and extreme brutalization of communities of color by law enforcement, Black people and other people of color experiencing homelessness are at especially high risk of charged interactions with police.
The link between criminalization of homelessness and race is clear. Several cities and states across the country have introduced legislation that makes it illegal for unsheltered people to publicly engage in normal, life-sustaining activities like sleeping, eating, and soliciting money or food. These ordinances give law enforcement cause to accost and potentially harm homeless people, even if they are behaving peacefully. From 2011 to 2014, laws against sitting or lying down in public increased by nearly half, leading to increased instances of police contact with people experiencing homelessness. Taken together with the well-documented phenomenon of racialized police violence, along with the use of untrained officers as respondents to mental and behavioral health crises, and it becomes clear that people of color experiencing homelessness are at an extraordinary risk of being brutalized or killed by police.
Read the full article about race and criminalization of homelessness by Tianna Kelly at National Alliance to End Homelessness.