The Road Home
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The Road Home

USC’s Racial Equity Team tackles systemic forces that push Black lives into homelessness

Dr. Ange-Marie Hancock Alfaro leads a team guided by the four principles of Black equity: Truth, Strength, Strategic Disruption, and Love

Dr. Ange-Marie Hancock Alfaro

“The impact of institutional and structural racism in education, criminal justice, housing, employment, health care, and access to opportunities cannot be denied: homelessness is a by-product of racism in America.

This introduction to LAHSA’s 2018 report on Black homelessness states the vision of USC’s new Racial Equity Team, led by Dr. Ange-Marie Hancock, professor of public policy at the University of Southern California.

For Dr. Alfaro, the work is also personal. Her sister-in-law is unhoused and Dr. Alfaro is raising her 12-year-old nephew as her own. Her personal drive is complemented by her 20 years of experience working with organizations around equity and implementing public policy to be inclusive of traditionally excluded populations. She is the award-winning author of three books, The Politics of Disgust and the Public Identity of the “Welfare Queen,” (2004), Solidarity Politics for Millennials: A Guide to Ending the Oppression Olympics (2011) and Intersectionality: An Intellectual History (2016)

Examining the root causes of Black homelessness

According to the 2020 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count, Black people comprise about 34% of the homeless population in the Los Angeles Continuum of Care, while comprising about 8% of LA County’s total population.

The current causes of Black homelessness come from a deep history in this country that intentionally left Black Americans out of not just homeownership, but also housing.

“Black homelessness has roots in slavery,” said Alfaro. “As slaves got too old to be ‘useful’ on the farm, the owner would kick them out. They’d be sent away from the home where they worked most of their lives.”

Dr. Alfaro cites three main reasons pushing Black people into homelessness in Los Angeles:

  • The gap between Black and white homeownership is one of the main causes of housing insecurity for Black Angelenos. Black people are more likely to be renters and thus are in less stable housing and are subject to eviction.
  • Housing discrimination shuts Black renters out of housing or pushes them into homelessness. Efforts to push out Section 8 housing vouchers are specifically anti-black.
  • Lower retention rates after being rehoused leaves Black Angelenos more likely to be pushed back into the cycle of homelessness. The team is studying the causes of this and are developing pilot implementations to improve retention.

“As a society we’ve been culturally desensitized to Black pain and trauma,” said Dr. Alfaro. This desensitization also has is roots in slavery, when the practice was justified by the false idea that Black people did not experience pain and suffering. That sentiment carries on today as Black people experiencing homelessness are denied care and are blamed for their own trauma.

“One way to resensitize the system is to hire Black leadership within these systems, especially people who have lived experience,” she said.

About the Racial Equity Team

USCs Racial Equity Team is a group of nationally recognized experts aiming to establish LAHSA as a leader in prioritizing equity while addressing homelessness. The team also includes:

  • Kendrick Roberson, professor of American People and Politics at Pepperdine and the Legislative and Political Coordinator for the American Federation of Government Employees
  • Anne Marie Jones, Chief Strategy Officer of LA84, and a founding member of Angelenos for Los Angeles Giving Circle, a donor-advised fund at the Liberty Hill Foundation
  • Kaci Patterson, owner of Social Good Solutions, a founding member of Communities for Los Angeles Student Success, and co-founded the BLACC (Building Leaders and Cultivating Change) Fund.
  • Deshonay Dozier, assistant professor of Geography at CSU Long Beach and is preparing a book manuscript titled Contested Development: A Poor People’s Movement for a Better Los Angeles, 1960–2020

The team is a collaborative effort of diverse stakeholders implementing the 67 recommendations of LAHSA’s Ad Hoc Committee on Black People Experiencing Homelessness, a 26-member committee which released a report in Dec. 2018 which serves as a roadmap to address Black homelessness.

Since the report release, LAHSA has taken steps towards five of the recommendations and created the team to implement them.

  1. Established a Racial Equity Initiative that contracted with USC’s Racial Equity Team, and created the Director of Racial Equity role
  2. Implemented equitable contracting and hiring practices that are increasing the diversity of contractors
  3. Training and capacity building to hold inclusive conversations, and build understanding of implicit bias and cultural competency
  4. Enhance data collection practices to reduce and eliminate disproportionality
  5. Examine and evaluate the CES Triage Tool to support appropriate service connections

The team has also identified 21 “hot-start” actions to build the traction needed to cover all 67 recommendations.

Work is underway for pilot tests, informed by research, community engagement and input from people with lived experience starting with an examination and testing around retention rates for those who have been rehoused. Pilot projects will be rigorously assessed at the end of two years ideally resulting in concrete initiatives that can be implemented at scale.

The path forward — building public understanding

Dr. Alfaro wants Angelenos to take this awareness of the causes of Black homelessness into a greater public understanding of the solutions. This includes three different systems that must work together in order to end homelessness: rehousing services (LAHSA’s role), prevention — which includes employment, criminal justice, health care and foster care systems and more — and housing availability, which can be addressed by city and state governments.

She also wants to make sure the public understands the true causes of homelessness.

“People are pushed into homelessness because of economic reasons, and they stay because of trauma,” she said. The common misconception is that substance abuse and mental illness cause homelessness, but the trauma of living without a home causes substance abuse and mental illness. “When people experiencing homelessness continually feel the disconnect between their lived experience and what people see in them, it creates a lot of despair.

But Dr. Alfaro is optimistic that the team will make a difference. “By targeting Black homelessness, we can have a universal impact ending homelessness for more Angelenos,” she said.

Find out more about USC’sRacial Equity Team’s work and the Ad Hoc Committee on Black People Experiencing Homelessness.

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LA Homeless Services Authority

LA Homeless Services Authority

We lead the fight to end #homelessness in LA County. www.lahsa.org.