African American Homelessness: No One-Size-Fits-All Solution

URBAN PERSPECTIVE - It’s been almost a year ago that I wrote how African American homelessness is different and why there is a need for a race-approach policy.  Interestingly, nothing has changed much, that I am aware of, to tunnel in on the increase of African American homelessness and unemployment.

The release of the unemployment numbers last month showing African American employment at 14.4% and its steady increase the last couple of quarters should have had a lot a people raging. It didn’t. And, I am not surprised.

As I have said in the past and I will say it again, “Solving homelessness for African Americans is not a one-size-fits-all approach.” Lumping African Americans into policy decisions that don’t include our input or representation is a sure way to keep us from excelling.

It is clearly demonstrated by some organizations that serve predominantly African Americans whose executive management and boards don’t reflect their service base. This might hold true for philanthropy too. The point is that we may not be at the policy decision making table.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
Solutions to African American homelessness require a historical context to understand why we remain in the majority. Without out that context, the lack of cultural knowledge and awareness lends itself to homeless reduction failure.

I am of the opinion that many factors have led to the rise of homelessness. It is not necessarily the deinstitutionalization of mental health care or Reaganomics, but from generational catastrophic historical incidents, and the decline of the African American family.

Considering the history of African Americans, no other ethnic group has experienced 400 years or more of oppression or civil rights injustices. Post slavery African Americans struggled to gain equal ground and establish strong economic footing in our country. Thereafter, the Willie Lynch Letter and Jim Crow laws perpetuated the inferiority of African Americans that has had long standing social implications in terms of equality in three major areas of our social system: housing, employment, and legal.

Although African Americans succeeded in achieving major milestones of equal justice during the Civil Rights Movement and election of President Barack Obama, the remnants of countless tragedies, injustices, and brutalities continue to impact us.

We forget that the passage of the Civil Rights Act was only 43 years ago. Although that seems like a long time. It is not. Countless African Americans have witnessed significant changes in history as it relates to their equality and their legal standing in our nation. Unprecedented high rates of incarceration, substance abuse, mental illness, and poverty can be easily correlated to historical events and changes. Oftentimes, these historical events have long-term inadvertent or advertent consequences.

So how does the African American family fit into the picture? Well for at least 32 years or more, the composition of the African American family has changed. African Americans have experienced decreased marriage rates and increased divorce and separation rates. Alarmingly, the rise of the single parent households is increasing the probability of children growing up in poverty, higher dropout rates, and high unemployment.

To put this into to context, in 1960, 51% of African American women were married opposed to 29% today. Additionally, 28% of African American women had never married opposed to 52% today. Couple those figures with the change in the two parent household from 67% living with two parents to less than 20% today. The financial stability of the African American family has been jeopardized, especially those in single parent households.

It is a known fact that poverty among African Americans exceeds 50% and that children from single parent households are more likely to have children out of wedlock thereby continuing intergenerational poverty. Therefore, the decline of the African American family is indirectly contributing to African American homelessness in our country.

In order to see significant changes in African American homelessness, we need better policy around family preservation and keeping families intact, a cultural shift from de-feminization of poverty so our children can have an increased sense of empowerment, more religious guidance and collaboration from our frontline first-responders, more male mentoring and fatherhood initiatives, and culturally appropriate support systems.

If African Americans continue to be underrepresented at the policymaking table, we are doomed to be stuck with the same results year after year.

(Janet Denise Kelly is a CityWatch featured contributor. She offers more than a decade of accomplishments in the housing and nonprofit sector. Janet brings valuable insight in the areas of community and economic development. Additionally, she brings knowledge regarding the leadership and management challenges faced by large and small nonprofits that are struggling or growing organizations. She blogs at jdkellyenterprises.org and can be reached at: janetdkelly@yahoo.com) –cw

Vol 10 Issue 59
Pub: July 24, 2012