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«DiscoVeriNg HomelessNess Volume 13, Number 1 • 2011 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development | Office of Policy Development and Research ...»

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Abstract

Since the 1980s, Blacks have been overrepresented in the homeless population with respect to their share of the national population and the poverty population, but little research has emerged to explain why this overrepresentation exists. Previous researchers have suggested that residential segregation and a declining supply of affordable housing push low-income Blacks into homelessness and that greater access to homeless shelters pulls low-income Blacks into homelessness at greater rates than Whites. These hypotheses have not been tested, because longitudinal data linking housing characteristics, service accessibility, and the homeless population do not exist. For these reasons, the study in this article presents analyses of housed and homeless populations separately.

The first set of analyses focuses on the segment of the housed population most at risk of becoming homeless: those living in inadequate and overcrowded housing. Using data from the 1990 and 2000 Decennial Censuses and the 1997 American Housing Survey, this study tests the relationship between residential segregation, affordable housing supply, and the extent to which Blacks live in inadequate and overcrowded housing.

The study found that high rates of residential segregation and lower affordable housing supply were associated with inadequate housing quality and overcrowding in Black households. Working under the assumption that closer proximity to homeless services decreases migration for such services, in the second set of analyses, this study examines racial differences in migration for homeless services. Using data from the 1996 National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients, this study reveals that Black homeless clients were less likely than White homeless clients to have migrated for homeless services. Black homeless clients were more likely than White homeless clients to both start their homeless spell in a large central-city location and end up using services in that location or in another large central city. Homeless spells were longer for Black homeless clients but were more transient for White homeless clients, who were more likely to stay in three or more towns during their spell. The study addresses implications for fair housing policy, affordable housing policy, and homeless-services provision;

discusses limitations of the research; and proposes areas for future research.

Cityscape 33 Cityscape: A Journal of Policy Development and Research • Volume 13, Number 1 • 2011 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development • Office of Policy Development and Research Carter Introduction Blacks1 are overrepresented in the homeless population, but little research has emerged to explain why this overrepresentation exists. Since the 1980s, studies on homelessness have consistently found that the homeless population is now much more racially diverse than it was before the 1980s, when it was composed primarily of White middle-aged men (Hopper, 2003; Rossi, 1989a;

Rossi, 1989b). After 1980, Blacks became overrepresented in the homeless population with respect to their share of the national population and the poverty population.

Explanations for the Black overrepresentation can be grouped into push and pull factors. Major push factors examined in the literature include poverty, declines in affordable housing supply, increases in affordable housing demand, housing discrimination, residential segregation, and lack of access to mental health and substance-abuse services. The major pull factor examined in the literature is access to shelter space. Some studies of the homeless population have found significant negative associations between affordable housing supply and the size of the homeless population and positive associations between increasing housing prices and the size of the homeless population (Bohanon, 1991; Burt, 1992; Eliot and Krivo, 1991; Honig and Filer, 1993). These studies, however, do not explain how housing influences Black homelessness differently than White homelessness.

Some researchers have speculated that residential segregation may be a reason for the overrepresentation of Blacks in the homeless population (Baker, 1994; Shinn and Gillespie, 1993; Wright, 1989; Wright, Rubin, and Devine, 1998). Regardless of the causes of residential segregation, its presence is theorized to limit housing opportunities for Blacks by shrinking the market in which they make housing choices. Thus, segregation may limit access to affordable housing and put Blacks at greater risk of becoming homeless. Although such theories have been proposed, they have never been empirically tested.

Other researchers have addressed shelter access, the main pull factor in the literature. Baker (1994) found that shelters were more likely to be placed in communities with high percentages of Blacks, and Lee and Farrell (2004) found that shelters were more likely to be placed in communities with high percentages of minorities. Some researchers have argued that homeless shelters perpetuate long-term homelessness and pull people out of inadequate substandard housing into homelessness (Gounis, 1990; Jencks, 1994). Thus, if poor Blacks have greater access to shelter space, they may be pulled out of their housing at greater rates than poor Whites, assuming equal preferences for using homeless services.

One reason why few researchers have addressed these push and pull factors empirically is that appropriate data to analyze the factors are not publicly available. Ideally, a researcher would need to link data on housing segregation, affordable housing supply, homeless shelter locations, and the racial composition of the homeless population in the United States to analyze these factors. If such data were available, a researcher could examine whether changes in segregation, affordable housing supply, and access to shelter space are correlated with Black homelessness rates. Because such linked data are not available, this study examines the housed and homeless populations separately.

In this article, “Blacks” should be understood to refer to “non-Hispanic Blacks” and “Whites” should be understood to refer to “non-Hispanic Whites.”

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Part I of this study’s analyses focuses on the segment of the housed population most at risk of becoming homeless (Ringheim, 1990; Rosenbaum, 1996; Stacey, 1972): those people who live in inadequate and overcrowded housing. Using data from the 1990 and 2000 Decennial Censuses and the 1997 American Housing Survey (AHS), this study examines the relationships between residential segregation, affordable housing supply, and the extent to which Blacks live in inadequate and overcrowded housing.

Working under the assumption that closer proximity to homeless services decreases the need to migrate for such services, Part II of this study’s analyses examines racial differences in migration for homeless services. Using client data from the 1996 National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients (NSHAPC), this study examines the migration of Black and White homeless people for homeless services.2 Literature Review This section discusses research on the overrepresentation of Blacks in the homeless population.

First, a review of historical research examines trends in Black representation in the homeless population over time. Second, explanations for the overrepresentation of Blacks in the homeless population since the 1980s are examined. Explanations for the overrepresentation are grouped into factors that are hypothesized to push and pull low-income Blacks into homelessness at greater rates than Whites.



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