Our client population at Promise House changes fairly often, but one thing remains tragically constant: a disproportionately high number of the youth we serve are Black.
That reflects national trends. According to the 2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, African Americans account for 40 percent of people experiencing homelessness — and half are homeless families with children. That percentage far exceeds the proportion of Black people in the general population (13 percent) and those living in poverty (21 percent), according to U.S. Census data.
Unfortunately, these disparities aren’t improving. Not only do African Americans make up the largest share of all people in shelters, that share has increased in recent years, while the share for white people has declined.
What’s going on? As we observe Black History Month in February, we can look to history to understand. Researchers point to centuries of discrimination in housing, criminal justice, child welfare and education. Black families are more vulnerable due to income disparities and insecurity, mental health issues and more.
As a result of all the above mentioned factors, people of color are more likely to have criminal records, which make finding a job or housing even more difficult. Black families with a past eviction, or who are unable to pay a security deposit, can’t find a new place to live. Nearly 90 percent of housing voucher-holders in Dallas are Black; but only a small number of landlords accept those vouchers.
White communities have had more opportunities to build generational wealth, which serves as a buffer to homelessness. A 2018 Duke University report showed that white families living near the poverty line have about $18,000 in wealth; the median wealth among Black families at the same income levels was near zero.
The solutions? Enact and enforce fair housing laws; regulate evictions; re-introduce rent control in large urban markets; limit the scope of background checks for ex-offenders and expand eligibility for housing vouchers.
And here in the city of Dallas – where redlining institutionalized racism long ago — you can help by supporting our work at Promise House. When we lead a Black child, teen or young adult from struggle to success, we do more than provide shelter. We offer the hope of eventually breaking the cycle that makes homelessness so prevalent in Black communities.