«DiscoVeriNg HomelessNess Volume 13, Number 1 • 2011 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development | Office of Policy Development and Research ...»
Conclusion and Policy Implications Findings from Part I of the analyses suggest that segregation has strong effects on increasing housing inadequacy and overcrowding for Blacks living in the upper quartile of the segregation distribution. Just as prior housing quality has been linked to homelessness (Ringheim, 1990), an important link between high levels of segregation and Black homelessness has been established.
These findings stress the importance of enforcing fair housing policies. In the past, these policies have been rendered ineffective due to an overreliance on the reports of discriminated individuals (Massey and Denton, 1993). Changing the focus from the reports of discriminated individuals to random investigations of REALTORS®, landlords, and mortgage lenders may increase the effectiveness of fair housing laws. In addition, it is crucial that White racial attitudes are addressed through the education system. Without the support of White attitudes toward racial integration, fair housing policies are doomed to fail. Failure of these policies may lead to negative consequences for Blacks that extend far beyond housing.
Part II of the research revealed that a large percentage of Black homeless clients experience their homelessness in urban center-city areas. Because Blacks are less likely than Whites to migrate for homeless services, it is likely that their housing problems are situated close to the place where they experience homelessness, as suggested by Culhane, Lee, and Wachter (1996). Thus, homeless policy must address housing affordability and residential segregation within America’s urban core if it is going to substantially affect Black homelessness.
To the extent that poor Blacks have greater housing affordability problems than poor Whites have, it is expected that Blacks will enter homelessness at greater rates than Whites. Black homeless 62 Discovering Homelessness From Exclusion to Destitution: Race, Affordable Housing, and Homelessness people have greater access to shelter space and are less likely than White homeless to migrate for homeless services. After Blacks become homeless, it is more difficult for them than for White homeless people to exit their state of homelessness.
These findings suggest that the overrepresentation of Blacks in the homeless population may be related to greater housing affordability problems and greater access to homeless services. In addition to calling for the need for greater attention to affordable housing construction and rehabilitation in inner cities, this study’s analyses suggest the need for a more equitable spatial distribution of homeless services across different racial communities. The concentration of drug markets, in particular the crack trade, within center cities may also help explain the prevalence of drug problems experienced by Black homeless people. Drug problems experienced by Blacks may also be a stronger risk factor for homelessness than the mental health problems that are experienced more by White homeless people. Recent historical research by Johnson (2010) attributes Black homelessness from the 1980s to the present to the conjunction of loss of affordable units taken away in urban renewal, loss of jobs due to deindustrialization, and increasing drug-abuse problems related to the availability of crack cocaine in central-city areas.
Although the overrepresentation of Blacks in the homeless population is probably due mostly to a combination of structural and individual factors, it may be partly due to deficiencies in a service-based approach to measuring the homeless. Service-based enumerations and surveys miss many people who are homeless and do not use homeless services. People who do not use homeless services—street homeless and those who double up with friends—do not show up in service-based enumerations and surveys. Proximity to homeless services may affect both service usage and the accuracy of estimates of the homeless population made from service-based samples. If White homeless people find it harder to locate services, they will be less likely than Black homeless people both to use them and to show up in service-based enumerations and surveys. If Black homeless people have greater access to homeless services, they will be more likely than White homeless people to use them and to show up in service-based enumerations and surveys. Increasing the equitable spatial distribution of homeless services would not only be a way to provide needed services to White homeless people who are not receiving them, but would also be a way to examine the extent to which the current location of homeless services has biased our estimates of the racial distribution of the homeless population.
To improve this study, data linking housing market characteristics and the homeless population would need to be collected. Confidential data from the NSHAPC can be linked to metropolitan areas (Early, 2005, 2004), but the data are not designed for regional analyses (Burt et al., 2001).
Increasing sample sizes within metropolitan areas and sampling more metropolitan areas would make it easier to make regional comparisons, but this may be prohibitively expensive. Sampling a small number of cities within each of the segregation quartiles could make it possible to increase sample sizes without making the study too expensive to conduct.
NSHAPC data are cross sectional, providing only a snapshot of the homeless population in time.
Cross-sectional studies of the homeless population overrepresent long-term homeless people and underrepresent short-term homeless people. Requiring homeless-services providers to collect data on clients may give a better sense of annual prevalence of homelessness, but the data may suffer from reliability problems due to the lack of centralized data collection. Service providers may not
have the time or money to collect such data or may oppose collecting information due to confidentiality concerns.
Because the NSHAPC contains data only on people who use homeless services, an appropriate comparison group was not available to adequately test the validity of housing quality as an at-risk measure. The NSHAPC contains information on housed people who use homeless services, but this population is not representative of the entire precariously housed population. Longitudinal data linking the housed population and the homeless population would provide the appropriate comparison groups for this test, although the data would most likely suffer from large attrition problems. This type of data helps determine whether people living in low-quality or overcrowded housing enter homelessness at higher rates than people living in high-quality or uncrowded housing. Culhane, Lee, and Wachter (1996) provided a basis for comparison when, in their work, they asked homeless families in New York and Philadelphia where they lived before they became homeless. Although this approach does not allow for comparison of the homeless population with the entire housed population, it provides the opportunity to compare homeless people to people in the neighborhoods where they previously lived.
Because the NSHAPC did not contain data on distance to homeless services, a definitive statement on the link between access to services and migration cannot be made. This link can be addressed in future research in several ways. Data could be collected on where the homeless lived before their current homeless episode and distances could be calculated between their last residence and their service location. It would be expected that those who live in places with less access to homeless services would have to migrate longer distances for homeless services. Because Blacks are more likely than Whites to live closer to homeless services, it is expected that they would migrate shorter distances for homeless services. This approach, however, does not account for (1) those who become homeless and do not use homeless services and (2) those who would end up in homeless shelters only if one were nearby. The first group is an unavoidable source of error in the analyses of the homeless population, because good-quality data on street homeless people are almost impossible to collect.
A second approach includes more of the second group in the analyses by first examining the census tract where service-using homeless people lived before becoming homeless. Characteristics of tracts, including poverty rates, median rents, and vacancy rates, could be collected. After these data are collected, tracts matching these characteristics could be selected at the national level to create a representative sample of tracts from which homeless people are likely to live before they become homeless. After the tracts are selected, distances could be calculated between tracts and homeless-services provision locations. Linking these tracts to data on the services-using homeless population, the probability that a resident will enter the services-using homeless population as a function of distance from homeless services could be predicted. Such an approach would include more of the at-risk population than the first approach and would better assess the role of access to homeless services in explaining the overrepresentation of Blacks in the homeless community.
The questions explored in this study undoubtedly need further research before clear policy implications can be drawn. What is clear is that a relationship exists between high rates of residential segregation and Blacks living in substandard or overcrowded housing. This study found that lower levels of segregation, greater availability of affordable housing, and higher homeownership rates 64 Discovering Homelessness From Exclusion to Destitution: Race, Affordable Housing, and Homelessness were associated with higher quality housing for Blacks. Because increasing the housing quality of all Americans should be an aim of national policy, stronger prointegration and antidiscrimination policies must be adopted. To the extent that increasing the affordable housing supply and the level of homeownership also increases the living conditions of Blacks, policies supporting these aims should also be promoted. In addition to calling for greater attention to affordable housing construction and rehabilitation in inner cities, the analyses in this study suggest the need for a more equitable spatial distribution of homeless services across different racial communities and the need to tailor homeless services to the differential determinants of homelessness for different groups.
Acknowledgments The research in this article was part of a dissertation supported by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Doctoral Dissertation Research Grant #H-21478SG. The views expressed here are those of the author alone and not necessarily those of HUD or the U.S. Census Bureau. The author thanks Alford Young, Jr., Jeffrey Morenoff, Robert Marans, Mary Corcoran, and Mark Holter of the University of Michigan and anonymous referees and editors for providing helpful comments on the dissertation and this article.
Author George R. Carter III is a survey statistician in the American Housing Survey Branch of the Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division of the U.S. Census Bureau.
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