Across California, PATH employees of all backgrounds and identities are working to end homelessness.
This month, to honor Black History Month, PATH is elevating the voices and experiences of PATH staff members and highlighting the disparities that exist in the Black community when it comes to homelessness and housing affordability. From sharing resources, to supporting Black-owned businesses and highlighting Black elected officials, we are focused on demonstrating that homelessness is indeed a civil rights issue.
PATH staff are on the front lines every day, working to connect people to services, employment, benefits and ultimately housing. Each person’s episode of homelessness is as unique as they are, and so are our team members. That’s why we make an effort to hire workers with diverse backgrounds and identities, to better serve people experiencing homelessness in our communities.
Here in San Jose, we are working to address disparities and see people for their full selves, and trying to understand the intersecting identities that people hold and the unique challenges they may face because of them.
Santa Clara County’s 2019 Homeless Census and Survey showed disproportionate rates of homelessness for Black or African American people. Whereas Black-identified residents make up about 3% of the general population, they represent 19% of the unhoused population. This isn’t just a blanket disproportionality for all people of color because this data also showed Asian-identified residents make up 36% of the general population and represent 4% of the unhoused population.
When it comes to other groups vulnerable to homelessness, such as families and veterans, the disparity is just as stark. For families experiencing homelessness, 23% identified as Black/African American. For veterans, 20% identified as Black/African American. These disparities were highlighted in the San José Spotlight article, “Report: Minorities in Santa Clara County are overrepresented in homeless population.”
This overrepresentation is not unique to San Jose. Nationally, according to January 2020 data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, about four of every 10 people experiencing homelessness were Black or African American. This disproportionately exists in other aspects of life in the United States, where racial inequality in housing, education, criminal justice, banking, health care and police violence persist.
So, what can be done to address this? First, we must recognize the scale of the problem and tailor our solutions to homelessness to address it. That means listening to people with lived experience and providing culturally competent services.
Members of PATH’s lived experience advisory committee who identified as Black reflected on their episodes of homelessness.
When accessing services, participants shared, “It’s harder to get first on any list. It’s hard being a Black male. It’s hard to meet all the standards.” Another member reflected, “Just the way people treat you, the way they act. Sometimes I feel like they judge me based on the color of my skin. I have to work harder to get resources.”
The people PATH serves are impacted by inequality every day, but they are also powerful. We’ve seen the strength radiating from people who continue to hope, dream and inspire. Matriarchs and patriarchs nurture their extended families. Youth navigate college, scholarship and financial aid packages in pursuit of their dreams. Neighbors galvanize efforts to support Black-owned and women-owned businesses. People find and share joy in even the darkest moments of their journeys. At PATH, we are honored to partner with many people as they forge their new destinies.
Internally as an organization, PATH created an independent group of workers, from line staff to leadership, that reflected the races and ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations and life experiences of the real world around us. This group is helping to create a new PATH, committed to including everyone in decision-making and leadership and representing our diverse society. Together we are promoting equity within our own organization to transform the antiquated system that has withheld so much from so many for far too long.
PATH is more than just a charity that helps people. We are a social change organization advancing a movement for a better future. That is why we use our platforms to educate, advocate and transform the systems of inequality that exist today in housing and homelessness.
San José Spotlight columnist Laura Sandoval is a regional director at PATH San Jose, a homeless services and housing development agency. She is also a licensed clinical social worker with over a decade of experience. Her columns appear every fourth Monday of the month. Contact Laura at [email protected]