Race and Homelessness in Santa Clara County

In early 2019, Destination: Home launched a new effort to examine how issues of race and homelessness intersect in our community. National research has shown that people of color are dramatically more likely than their white counterparts to become homeless in America, and that the legacy of historical and contemporary structural racism is at the root of who becomes homeless. And we wanted to bring a racial equity lens to homelessness in Santa Clara County.

SPARC (Supporting Partnerships for Anti-Racist Communities) facilitated our efforts under the guidance of our local Race Equity Advisory Board, which is comprised of community leaders and allies with and without lived experience who wisely guided this process on our community’s behalf. I am deeply grateful to Pastor Paul Bains, Jacky Morales-Ferrand, Poncho Guevara, Camille Llanes-Fontanilla, Consuelo Hernandez, Jennifer Kelleher, Anthony King, Dontae Lartigue, Miguel Marquez, Kelly Petrich and Nicole Taylor for their leadership over the past year in ensuring that our work is rooted in justice and informed by many people who have been directly impacted by our system.

We hope this report serves as a jumping off point for the challenging, yet critical work to eliminate racial disparities for people experiencing homelessness. By understanding and acknowledging how systemic racism shows up in policies, in institutions, and in belief systems across our community we can work together to identify strategies to reverse the inequities individuals and families of color in our community are facing. We will never be able to end homelessness without being willing to address the systems and policies that continue to contribute to a disproportionate rate of homelessness for people of color here and across our country. This work is up to all of us.

Read on for a summary of the main findings and recommendations of this report, or download a PDF of the entire report or 2-page summary.

REPORT FINDINGS

Theme 1: Disproportionately high rates of homelessness among specific racial/ethnic groups

Overall, Santa Clara County is generally similar to other communities across the U.S., with high rates of homelessness among people of color. These disparities are particularly prevalent among Black / African American, American Indian / Alaska Native, and Hispanic/Latinx populations. In contrast, non-Hispanic people and those who identify as Asian/Asian American are both significantly underrepresented in the homeless population.

Theme 2: Racial/ethnic variation in experiences of homelessness

Our analysis found racial and ethnic disparities for some (but not all) HMIS data sets related to a person’s homelessness experiences. For example:

Prior homeless experiences are generally proportionate by race and ethnicity to the HMIS population.

However…

American Indian/Alaskan Natives were 35% more likely to exit from programs back into homelessness.

When assessed for vulnerability and housing need, a higher percentage of Non-Hispanic/Latinx families (45.7%) are assessed as needing Permanent Supportive Housing than Hispanic/ Latinx families (39%).

Theme 3: Structural barriers, including lack of affordable housing and economic opportunity

Stakeholders across the community cited systemic and structural inequities as a significant driver of housing insecurity and poverty in people of color.

  • While housing affordability is an issue that affects people of all racial and ethnic background, people of color may be most severely impacted.
  • The persistent wealth gap and lack of economic opportunity put communities of color at risk of homelessness.
  • Disproportionately high rates of homelessness among people of color in the county mirror disproportionality in other systems.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Based on this initial assessment, the report also made a number of recommendations for how Destination: Home and the broader Supportive Housing System can begin to address racial disparities related to homelessness:

Strategies to Address Racial Equity

  1. Center and raise the voice of people of color who have experienced homelessness in the policy and program decisions of the supportive housing system.
  2. Partner with the safety net system to better understand and address the systemic causes of poverty and inequity.
  3. Adopt new housing and land use policies that help reverse longstanding housing disparities that have negatively impacted people of color.

Values to Guide our Work

  1. Integrate people of color with lived experience of homelessness in all program, policy, and funding decisions.
  2. Align racial equity work in the homelessness sector with other racial equity initiatives in Santa Clara County.
  3. Use a racial equity lens and data-driven decision making in the homelessness system and across other systems.

View the entire report or 2-page summary.