By Mia Harper
Homelessness and how to end it has been a topic of conversation over the past several years at the state, federal and community levels. However, there has been little conversation on how homelessness and racism are linked. It is time to speak up and call it what it is.
It is so sad that at this time being Black still feels like a crime in this country. Many U.S. citizens have not gotten rid of racism in their blood, nor social structures have got it out of their system. Discrimination based on sexual orientation, religion and, worst of all, skin color is still evident. San Francisco is not an exception: I have experienced this myself as a resident. For me, it has been even worse because I am Black and trans. Finding work and getting health care and general services seems like quite a challenge, and sometimes you just give up.
For many African Americans, workplaces are the worst when it comes to discrimination and even sexual harassment from people who think they are untouchable. Most of these cases go unreported due to fear of tarnishing the workplace’s good name or just fear of losing the job. It’s so sad, but real! This discrimination has led to many unemployment cases and job losses. These in turn lead to loss of income, housing insecurity and homelessness.
As Black people, we also face a challenge finding secure and affordable housing. Some landlords won’t allow us to lease their apartments at all, and if they do, it’s not without an awkward background check that sometimes feels racially offensive. They have this notion that by being Black you may be associated with criminal activities or cause disturbance to the neighbors. But there are dangerous white gangs involved in crime and drugs as well.
We African Americans have been denied rights and socioeconomic opportunities resulting from racism. We have low or no access to mortgages and business loans, which contributes to high levels of poverty and finally homelessness. Many of us who are housed still live in low-income neighborhoods with exposure to environmental toxins and limited health care, nutritious food and economic opportunities. With this kind of environment, there is a very high risk of ending up homeless. Discrimination makes moving from these neighborhoods to places with less crime and no environmental hazards difficult if not impossible.
Racial discrimination has also placed Black people at greater risk of being targeted, profiled and arrested for minor offenses, especially in high-poverty areas. This creates a criminal history that prevents people from passing background checks required to secure safe, affordable housing and employment. People tend to make criminal justice-involved folk , especially those who are Black, feel unwanted and unwelcome in society. They end up on the streets, unemployed and homeless.
I believe that everybody, regardless of race, should have access to proper housing, health care and services. Any efforts to end homelessness in San Francisco and the U.S. as a whole have to first address the issues that have resulted from racial discrimination. We must understand that we cannot make progress on a problem that is the result of racial inequity. These measures should ensure availability of affordable, stable housing and employment opportunities for all.