More than half a million Americans experienced homelessness in 2019—a number that has slowly ticked upward in recent years. Of the families that make up that number, the Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress finds that 52 percent are black.
Of an estimated 568,000 Americans who were without shelter last year, individual black Americans comprised 40 percent of the total, despite being just 13 percent of the U.S. population, ABC News reports.
The study highlights the effects of the ongoing housing crisis in many of America’s largest urban areas, which has been identified as one of the primary factors driving homelessness.
“African Americans have remained considerably overrepresented among the homeless population compared to the U.S. population,” read the report. “This report demonstrates continued progress toward ending homelessness, but also a need to re-calibrate policy to make future efforts more effective and aligned with the unique needs of different communities.”
Homelessness is, as one might expect, closely tied to poverty rates, which disproportionately hit black Americans. Black households are two-and-a-half times more likely to experience poverty than white ones, with nearly one in four black Americans living in poverty. The study reinforced that poverty was a strong predictor of homelessness.
The factors that keep black Americans in disproportionately high rates of poverty are interconnected. Research shows that, more than any other racial or ethnic group, black Americans as a whole are much less likely to be upwardly-mobile (that is, wealthier than their parents) than other groups. Barriers to education and employment pose serious challenges to getting out of poverty, as do longstanding practices of discrimination and inequality when it comes to housing (redlining, of course, as well as discriminatory lending practices that deny housing and business loans to black people). Then there’s a criminal justice system that disproportionately targets African Americans and a health care system that underserves them (almost half of the country’s homeless population have mental health issues).
President and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness told ABC News the report was an “urgent call to action to federal, state, and local leaders.”
“This isn’t the fault of the homelessness sector, and it is not the fault of people experiencing homelessness,” Roman continued. “It is the fault of systems that have failed our most vulnerable populations, and leaders who have failed to protect them.”