By Bruce Checefsky
Each year at least 2.5 to 3.5 million Americans sleep in shelters, transitional housing, and public places not meant for human habitation.
The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty currently estimates that at least an additional 7.4 million have lost their own homes and are doubled-up with others due to economic necessity. The fallout from the pandemic will cause chronic homelessness to climb 49% nationwide. The homelessness crisis will peak in 2023, with an additional 603,000 American adults without a permanent roof over their heads.
The definition of homelessness by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) includes four broad categories: homeless, imminently homeless, homeless under federal statutes, and victims of domestic violence. If a person meets one of these categories, they are eligible for HUD funding.
Homelessness also includes school-aged children who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence, according to the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. Families unable to stay together in the same place, children doubled up with more than one family in a household due to loss of housing or economic hardship, and children living in cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, or other substandard housing.
Donald Whitehead, Executive Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), believes he knows why. Whitehead offered his views in a recent forum on Racial Equity in the Area of Housing and Homelessness held in Cleveland.
Photo: Donald Whitehead, Executive Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless
Photo credit: Bruce Checefsky
“The structural or systemic levels of racism cause homelessness. The intentional advantages provided for white people to the disadvantage of people of color causes homelessness. Federal and local policies that make it hard for a person of color to make a living,” he said. “Racism is at the core of homelessness.”
“African Americans are disproportionately homeless at a rate of 3-to-1, compared to the general population,” Whitehead continued. “African Americans make up 13% of the general population and 40% of the homeless population.”
Based on Census Data and the Department of Education’s definition of homelessness, Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) estimates 23,000 people experienced homelessness in 2018 in Cuyahoga County. The Office of Homeless Services estimated that only 7,000 of these people entered a shelter for housing. Over 80% were people of color.
Brian Davis, Director of Grassroots Organizing and board member of National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) from 2001-2017, stressed how important it was for NCH to set up a midwestern regional office in Cleveland, one of five regional offices in the United States. For more information: https://nationalhomeless.org
Bring America Home Now, a grassroots campaign to end homelessness led by NCH and people who have experienced homelessness, will focus on the passage of federal legislation. They aim to address the interconnected solutions to the decades-long epidemic of homelessness. The goal, according to Whitehead, is to examine structural issues that affect social change.
“Lifting the minimum wage to a livable wage, addressing structural racism by changing the fair market rent, and making it illegal to discriminate against people because of the source of their funding for housing are a few examples of structural change,” he said. “Passing the voting rights bill is essential for a level playing field.”
Andrea Wilson, Chair of the Housing Committee of the Cleveland Branch of the NAACP, said housing provides stability in a neighborhood. For many years, the Black community did not have home equity, a luxury for some white families.
“The housing market crash in 2008 brought an influx of out-of-town investors with very little community interest,” said Wilson.
Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) provides emergency resources for the homeless. CMHA has 19,000 people on the waiting list with only 15,000 available housing vouchers. It can take three years to get assistance. By then, people have moved or their contact information is gone.
The NAACP, in partnership with NID Housing (NID), a HUD-certified housing counseling agency, offers homelessness assistance and foreclosure prevention. Wilson suggests that more funding is needed for affordable housing.
“HUD needs to work more closely with the housing authority and homeless organizations to assist people,” she said.
Brian Mallory, a member of the Steering Committee of the Cuyahoga County Jail Coalition and resident of Riverview Tower since 2018, knows it’s hard to deal with public housing.
“I wanted to organize a rent strike in my building. Our housing authority has so little regard for our basic rights,” said Mallory. “I reject that the system is overworked. It takes CMHA forever to make a simple decision. They are not a credible partner.”