We live in the greatest country in the world! We are touted as the “land of opportunity”, where freedom and equality is the basis of our existence. We proudly proclaim that everyone is treated equal and yet our minority families and children are suffering. In an ideal world equality may be the case, but in reality, the statistics speak for themselves.
According to the Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress, (2007) homelessness disproportionately afflicts minorities. About 59 percent of the sheltered homeless population and 55 percent of the poverty population are members of minority groups. African-Americans represent 12 percent of the total U.S. population but 45 percent of people who are homeless (p.29)
This essay will explore the issues and challenges facing our racial and ethnic minority homeless population and the programs that are in place to help execute a transition out of homelessness and poverty.
We will look at the relationship between homelessness and ethnic identities and what factors play a part in their functionality. The goal of this exploration is to reach a better understanding and awareness of the communities around us and what has contributed to the conditions we find our communities in today. With understanding and awareness, we as a society can then address what got us here and what we can do as individuals and collectively to represent a change and a commitment to improve the world around us.
America’s Minorities: From Hope to Homeless
In my opinion there are so many factors that play into the basis of the disproportionately number of ethnic and racial minorities in relation to the homeless population. I think that fundamentally this stems from the many years of inequality, lack of opportunity and access to services that promote racial and ethnic equality.
According to the National Coalition for the homeless, two major factors play a part in becoming homeless. One is the lack of affordable housing, the other is a simultaneous increase in poverty. In addition to that, high cost of health care in conjunction with job loss, domestic violence, mental illness and drug addiction are all contributing factors (NCH, 2008).
In order to have an equal playing field we must all have the same advantages, opportunities and access to assistance. When it comes to the racial and ethnic minority population this is certainly not the case. Racial and ethnic minorities are faced with a unique set of challenges when compared to the non-minority group.
Finding affordable housing for minorities can be very difficult, if not impossible. The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s policies and programs are accountable for providing public and private housing for the poor. These HUD programs have not adequately addressed the lack of affordable housing in our nation. The consequences of the affordable housing shortage are specifically evident amongst racial minority populations (Lawyers, 2003).
When it comes to employment, there are often language or cultural barriers that work as a disadvantage in finding competitive positions. There is also no question that discrimination based on stereotypes still exists in America and contributes to the high unemployment rate among racial and ethnic minorities. Many minorities are unskilled and still struggling with acculturation into a society that is not readily accepting them. Meanwhile, the job market is shifting away from general laborers to employment in technology.
Holzer (2000) provides evidence that suggests that the career employment
prospects of less-educated minorities are impaired by a number of factors:
1) Poor quantity and quality of education in many low-income areas
2) The limited early work experience of young minorities
3) Their limited access to jobs in suburban areas
4) Continuing discrimination (especially in small establishments or those with mostly white customers)
5) Participation in illegal activity that result in high rates of incarceration of youth. (p.19)
Mental illness and Drug addiction are also major factors in homelessness. Ethnic minorities face inequality that includes greater exposure to discrimination and poverty, which, in turn, may contribute to mental illness or drug addiction. Poverty and lack of health insurance make health and mental health care less accessible to many minority persons (Gamst, 2006)
A recent study suggest that racial and ethnic minorities are not as likely as their white counter-parts to access mental health counseling or services, even though they do feel that treatment may be effective (Diedre, et al, 2008). The inability to recognize or seek out mental health counseling can result in the inability to cope with life stresses and will inhibit one from living a functional life in society and could likely lead to homelessness.
The issues of racial and ethnic homeless minorities is complex. There are many factors that contribute to the high number homeless minorities. The first step in addressing the problem is education. Not only do we need to educate our children, but we need to educate ourselves and focus our attention on programs that are designed to tackle specific challenges.
f we create jobs for the homeless then we need to make sure that the minorities have the skills and assistance necessary to compete for these jobs. If we are having problems finding affordable housing then maybe we should offer incentives to landlords to promote equal housing opportunity.
If the minority homeless are having mental health concerns or drug addictions then we should have services readily available to assist them. We should create a focused ad campaign to help minorities overcome the stigma attached to there concerns about mental health issues. If minorities make up 59% of the homeless population then they are are the majority in that segment of the population and more services should be directed at meeting their unique and specific needs.
We have just touched on a few issues that put minorities at a great disadvantage to functioning in our society. Now that we have looked at the problems, it is much easier to see the conditions or circumstances that may lead to homelessness.
As individuals we can become more patient and accepting of the differences between our ethnicities and cultures. We need to promote education and open- mindedness, not only in ourselves but to those around us. We need to show zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind and participate in the issues to promote change.
As a society we can push to put more services in place to help with the transition out of poverty. We need to push our representatives for more training programs in place to help unskilled minority worker gain necessary skills and abilities to compete in a changing society. We need to increase our affordable housing programs and offer incentives for landlords who wish to participate.
We need to call on minorities to embrace mental health services and provide role models to motivate others. If we work to eliminate the stigma attached to mental illness it will go along way in serving our minority population.
There are many wonderful programs in place today that can help with many of these issues. The problem is that there is not enough of them and there are not enough people speaking out about the problems unique to minorities.
Many people fall victim to stereo-types and approach the homeless with a pre-conceived idea of how they ended up where they are and how they are staying where they are. Many people discriminate against the homeless and treat them as if they do not exist. Reality is, they do exist, they are our problem and we need to do something about it. The truth of the matter is we have all contributed to putting them where they are today, and we are the only ones that can contribute to getting them the help that they need.
Diedre. M. A., et al. (2008, July) Racial differences in beliefs about the effectiveness and necessityof mental health treatment. American Journal of Community Psychology
vol 42 Issue 1-2, p. 17-24
Gamst, Glenn, et al. (2006, Dec) Relationship among respondent ethnicity, ethnic identity, acculturation, and homeless status on a homeless population’s functional status. Journal of Clinical Psychology Vol. 62 Issue 12, p1485-1501
Holzer, H., (2000) Career Advancement Prospects and Strategies for Low-Wage Minority Workers Retrieved November 15, 2008 from http://www.urban.org/publications/410403.html
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (2003) The lack of affordable housing and its impact on minorities Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, Washington D.C.
National Coalition for the Homeless (2008). Why are people homeless?
Retrieved November 15, 2008 from
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban development, Office of Community Planning and development. (2007). The Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.