The sobering reality is that while Black Americans make up just 12% of the population, they represent 39% of people experiencing homelessness — the largest share for any population. In Los Angeles County, where I am President and CEO of St. Joseph Center, a large nonprofit working to eradicate homelessness, this unfortunate ratio follows the same pattern: our Black neighbors account for a staggeringly disproportionate part of the homeless population.

How we got here

We know this over representation stems from structural and systemic racism. When we look at the history of our country, from being founded on slavery, to racial segregation, redlining, police violence and mass incarceration, these discriminatory practices have created a collective trauma with significant consequences, include rising rates of homelessness.

Targeted voter suppression of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) voters, the disparate rates of homeownership across suburban America, and the gaps in health care for communities of color are all unjust legacies of these laws and public policies. To combat racism, we need to not only identify and remedy larger social policies and institutional practices that advantage some groups at the expense of others, but we also must examine our own organizations and operational practices.

Organizational change

While many organizations recognize the value of “diversity” and “inclusion,” genuine racial equity requires a structural transformation that goes beyond surface level policies. We cannot only invite BIPOC folks to the table, instead we need to ensure the table is co-developed and that power is distributed equitably.

But how do agencies create true operational and organizational change? It is important to pursue policies that explicitly name racial disparities and seek to address them, recognizing how white supremacist cultural norms hurt all of us. Leaders can also seek to dismantle systems that further inequality and limit advancement for staff and clients from racially marginalized communities. To do this effectively, there are concrete steps we can take.

Read the full article about centering racial equity by Va Lecia Adams Kellum and Keith Anyon at National Alliance to End Homelessness.