Black, Homeless And Burdened By L.A.’s Legacy of Racism

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Written by Ann Brown
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Los Angeles has had a homeless problem for a long time — more than 44,000 people who sleep on the streets each night. And a large number of them are Black. Sheila Nichols, 55, is silhouetted as she stands in room at the Charles Cobb Apartments in Los Angeles, Monday, July 19, 2010. After two decades living on the streets of Skid Row, Nichols was dying. Her body had wasted away to 61 pounds, ravaged by a heavy-duty crack cocaine addiction, hepatitis, HIV, and late-stage syphilis. Nichols was rescued by Project 50, a pilot program to get the 50 people most likely to die if they remained homeless into housing, medical care and social services. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Los Angeles has had a homeless problem for a long time — more than 44,000 people who sleep on the streets each night. 

“Income inequality, a shortage of housing, failing mental health services and drug addiction all contribute to growing scenes of squalor across America’s second-largest city. The federal government recently estimated that a nearly 3 percent rise in homelessness nationwide this year was driven mostly by California,” The New York Times reported.

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“The homelessness crisis we are living in now is the result of a housing crisis that has been in the making for decades,” said Marqueece Harris-Dawson, a City Council member who represents areas of South Los Angeles. 

A new report shows that Black people in Los Angeles are more likely to be homeless than their white peers.

While Black people make up just 8 percent of L.A. County’s population, they account for 42 percent of homeless Angelenos. This is due to decades’ worth of “systemic racism and discrimination,” according to a new report from the New York Times.

“In the analysis, the paper examined how the criminal justice system, the history of redlining, and modern-day housing discrimination have contributed to the fragmentation of Black communities in the city, fueling displacement and resulting in tens of thousands of black people losing their homes. More than 60,000 Black Angelenos experienced homelessness this year,” Los Angeles Magazine reported.

The problem is concentrated in South L.A., which was once the epicenter of Black life in the city. The area’s Black respondents had trouble making rent and mortgage, many them victims of discriminatory housing policies ad predatory lending practices. The area also saw an influx of Latinos, pushing out the Black residents, many of whom became homeless. 

“A report on Black homelessness published a year ago by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority found racism to be the root cause, saying that black Angelenos continue to face discrimination in many areas. Over the past 50 years, for example, Black homeownership in L.A. County has declined to 36 percent from 44 percent,” The Times reported.

Another contributor to the increase in the number of Black Angelenos being homeless is disparities in the criminal justice system. Despite being fewer in percentage in population, Blacks account for 30 percent of its prison population. 

“Latinos in the area do not experience homelessness at nearly the same rate as African-Americans. Experts cite a variety of reasons. Rates of homelessness among white Angelenos are similar to those of Latinos, at about one in 100 residents. Asians and Pacific Islanders in Los Angeles experience homelessness at even lower rates,” The Times reported.

“There is probably no more single significant factor than incarceration in terms of elevating somebody’s prospects of homelessness,” former Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority director Peter Lynn told the Times.

“It has been a vicious barrage of public and private policies and actions that have placed and will continue to place Black individuals and families into a downward spiral into poverty,” Chancela Al-Mansour, the director of a local housing advocacy group, told the Times.

While advocates for the homeless have been looking for solutions, there seems to be none in sight. It will take years to undo the policies that have led to this disparity.