In issues involving the homeless, race is rarely brought into the discussion. However, the face of American homelessness is undoubtedly black, with reports listing African-Americans as roughly half of the homeless population. While studies documenting the homeless are difficult to conduct and historically inaccurate, the disproportionate number of black homeless people is impossible to ignore. However, programs for the homeless are rarely targeted for specific racial groups, despite the heavy difference in ratios.
Janet Denise Kelly is a large proponent of a race-based approach to policy in addressing homelessness, believing that the organizations and executive management groups designed to service the predominantly black homeless population ignore the perspective of that group. While aid is provided regardless of race, Kelly argues in an essay on a site called CityWatch, the absence of an African-American presence at the policy-making tables for the nations will only lead to further disparities in homeless race ratios.
Kelly lists a number of factors that she believes to be responsible for the black majority among the homeless, including a history of oppression via Jim Crow and the methodology of Willie Lynch, as well as the decline of the black family. Since 1960, the percentage of married African-American women has declined from 51 to 29, with less than 20 percent of all black households being run by two parents.
“It is a known fact that poverty among African Americans exceeds 50 percent and that children from single parent households are more likely to have children out of wedlock thereby continuing intergenerational poverty,” Kelly wrote. “Therefore, the decline of the African American family is indirectly contributing to African-American homelessness in our country.”
Without footholds within key policy-making organizations, individual African Americans will have to fight for their own economic stability. Kelly lays the responsibility not just on the policies of American institutions, but also feels that a cultural shift within the black community is necessary in order to establish their own social policies.
“If African Americans continue to be underrepresented at the policymaking table, we are doomed to be stuck with the same results year after year.”