The COVID-19 pandemic took the world by surprise, leading to confusion, panic, illness, and significant loss of life. In the United States, which has experienced the greatest documented loss of life due to the virus, Latinx, American Indian/Alaskan Natives and African Americans are twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as White/Non-Hispanic persons, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC indicates that race and ethnicity are risk markers for other underlying conditions that affect health, including socioeconomic status, access to health care, and exposure to the virus related to occupation (e.g., frontline, essential, and critical infrastructure workers).
This disparate health reality is accompanied by the economic impact the pandemic has had on communities of color. The statistics illuminate racial disparities among Americans working in lower paying roles. These include public facing roles that compromise workers’ ability to socially distance and increase the likelihood of virus contact. Contributing to the economic impact of the pandemic, unemployment peaks in communities of color, soaring past Great Recession rates of 10%. Black workers are experiencing unemployment at around 16%, Hispanic workers at 13%, and American Indian/Alaskan Native workers at 15.1%, according to the Center for American Progress. Additionally, Latinx and Black families are seeing the highest rate of foreclosure during this time.
These statistics not only affect those who are housed, but have a profound impact on those who are experiencing homelessness during the pandemic. And given the disproportionately of people color among those who experience homelessness, these economic impacts should be at the forefront of homelessness systems’ minds when planning how to spend federal COVID-19 relief funds, especially Emergency Housing Vouchers (EHVs).
Prioritizing Equity with New Homeless Resources
Emergency Housing Vouchers are one of the important new resources that can be used to end people’s homelessness and keep them housed. To use these vouchers, HUD requires housing authorities and Continuums of Care (CoCs) to collaborate on distributing them to those in their community who need them most. The vouchers also provide an opportunity for communities to make an impact on racial disparities in who experiences homelessness.
Communities are looking at their data and making very important decisions about who to prioritize for these vouchers. Within this decision-making process is the ability to examine data through a racial equity lens and ask strategic questions about where the greatest disparities lie and how these vouchers might impact them.
They can start by identifying specific homeless groups or subgroups who are experiencing homelessness for longer periods of time or have higher rates of unsheltered homelessness. Additionally, they can undergo another level of analysis by examining racial disparities among these groups or subgroups. The EHVs can then be prioritized to identified groups and subgroups who not only experience homelessness for longer periods of time or have higher rates of unsheltered homelessness, but that also have high rates of racial disparities.
For example, groups such as under-25 single, female head of household families or individual males over 45 years old historically have high rates of homelessness and have higher length of stays compared to other groups. There also tend to be high levels of racial disparities among these groups. Examining your data in this fashion will elevate race equity’s importance in the EHV prioritization process, and help ensure that the most vulnerable of those experiencing homelessness are identified.
Housing First and EHVs
When connecting households with EHVs, providers should employ Housing First principles. One critical component of Housing First is creating necessary community connections to facilitate housing stability. Strategically done, this effort can be integrated with a community’s racial equity priorities.
A way to do this is by diversifying the community resources and partnerships a CoC engages with. Diversifying can consist of building relationships with communities of color by connecting with Black, Latinx, American Indian or Alaskan Native-owned businesses, culturally-specific service organizations, community-rooted religious institutions, and other culturally diverse partners. These organizations can help with creating long-term housing stability that is culturally tailored to the diverse clients you are serving.
Some of these organizations might provide employment opportunities and resources, mental health resources, case management, and other services that may be needed for a household to develop housing stability while utilizing an EHV. Forming these relationships between the community and the CoC increases the capacity of the CoC and allows for culturally appropriate referrals and warm handoffs.
While time is always of the essence in the field of ending homelessness, we cannot allow time to be the enemy of equity. Equity is and should always be a priority of your CoC. Use the resources and momentum of today to take one step closer to creating race equity in your community.