Organizations that serve people experiencing homelessness are a lot whiter than the populations they serve — and homelessness disproportionately affects people who are black as it is, according to a report put together by the data committee of the Nashville/Davidson County Continuum of Care.
The CoC is a collection of 37 organizations that serve Nashville’s homeless population in different capacities.
Homelessness and race
Forty-three percent of people experiencing homeless, be it in shelters or unsheltered, are black, according to the 2018 point-in-time count, a count of those without permanent housing that takes place on one day in January each year. By contrast, the census reports that in 2018, 27 percent of Nashvillians identified as black. The point-in-time count also found the homeless population to be 1 percent Asian and 3 percent Hispanic, percentages that are actually less than the census report of 3.6 percent Asian, and 10.4 percent Hispanic populations in Nashville.
“The Nashville/Davidson County CoC has yet to engage in a deep or systematic analysis of racial and ethnic disparities in outcomes among those experiencing homelessness in our city,” the report states.
The report also says the committee will be looking into if there are also racial disparities in how long people are on waiting lists for housing and how long they remain in transitional programs before getting permanent housing.
Service organizations and race
Out of the 37 member organizations of the CoC, 79 percent of those serving on all the boards were white, according to data compiled in the same report through the nonprofit database givingmatters.com. Just under 21 percent of board members are African American, and if three historically African American-led organizations were removed from the data, it would make the CoC organization boards 84 percent white, the report reads.
There are only six individuals identified as Asian on these boards, less than one percent. There are only eight individuals identified as Hispanic or Latinx — again, less than 1 percent compared to the city’s 10 percent Hispanic population.
It’s not just the boards. The general workforce in this field is mostly white, too. In a survey of 128 people working in jobs that serve people experiencing homelessness in Nashville 80 percent were white and only 14 percent selected black or African American as the one racial designation that best described them. A little over three percent identified as Hispanic or Latinx.
“The CoC is only beginning to examine these survey results in depth, but, even from a cursory review, it is clear that those who serve and make decisions about the design and delivery of services for people experiencing homelessness in Nashville do not reflect the races and ethnicities of the population that avails itself of those services,” the report reads.
The CoC Homelessness Planning Council has recently created a committee on racial equity. Once this committee is filled, it will work with other committees to set concrete goals around racial equity, says Abigail Dowell, assistant director for the Homeless Impact Division, which staffs the Homelessness Planning Council, CoC’s governing board.
Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which provides the CoC with federal funds, started asking questions about racial disparities, and the running this report was one of the first steps in following suit, Dowell says.
“I hope that it pushes our community to try and make things more equitable, to help bring up leaders to provide more diversity so that we can better serve individuals experiencing homelessness,” Dowell says. “I just think it’s a piece that has been overlooked for too long and has to be addressed.”