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Vernellia R. Randall
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from Racial and Ethnic Discrimination in the United States, The Status of Compliance by the U.S. Government with the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination Compiled By THE WORLD ORGANIZATION AGAINST TORTURE USA


prepared by  National Coalition for the Homeless with contributions from Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights

An increasing number of Americans are an illness, an accident, or a paycheck away from living on the streets.The majority, and a disproportionate number of those subjected to homelessness, are people of color.In a 1999 study, the U.S. Conference of Mayors reported that an estimated 50% of the homeless population is African American, compared to 31% Caucasian.Hispanics compromise 13% of the homeless population while 4% are Native Americans and 2% are Asians.Thus, people of color comprise 69% of the total homeless population.[18]As a percentage of the national population, African Americans are significantly over-represented among the homeless.

Homelessness, the inability to secure permanent and affordable housing, stems from a myriad of social problems inextricably linked to the growing numbers of poor Americans nationwide. Despite recent economic growth, there has been a significant increase in the number of Americans living in poverty. In 1996, 36.5 million Americans had incomes equal to or less than the federal poverty level, while 14.4 million--nearly two-fifths of all poor persons--had incomes of less than half the national poverty level (US Bureau of the Census, 1997).Even in a booming economy, it is estimated by the Urban Institute that “at least 2.3 million adults and children, or nearly 1% of the U.S. population, are likely to experience a spell of homelessness at least once during a year.”[19]This likelihood increases to 6.3% of the population if only people living in poverty are considered.

Despite the substantial and growing need, the government response in the provision of assistance to the homeless has been far from adequate.Many people who lack a stable, permanent residence have few shelter options because shelters are filled to capacity or are unavailable.A recent study of twenty-six U.S. cities found that in 1999, 25% of all requests for shelter went unmet due to the lack of resources provided by governments (Waxman and Hinderliter, 1996).In addition, a review of homelessness in fifty U.S. cities found that in virtually every city, the city's officially estimated number of homeless people greatly exceeded the number of emergency shelter and transitional housing spaces available in their areas (National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, 1999).Moreover, there are either few or no shelters available in rural areas of the United States, despite significant levels of homelessness (Aron and Fitchen, 1996).As a result of these factors, many people who lack permanent housing are forced to live with relatives and friends in crowded, temporary arrangements, assuming this is even an available option.The severe lack of affordable housing, employment opportunities that pay a livable wage, employment training and education -- combined with diminishing access to dwindling federal resources that are allocated to address these concerns -- are major structural issues that have caused and promoted the substantial increase in the number of homeless Americans over the past twenty years.

Simultaneously, local governments around the country have been engaging in ongoing efforts to criminalize homelessness through a variety of law enforcement strategies. Additionally, an increasing number of hate crimes are committed in the United States against homeless citizens, amidst the growing hostility expressed by many Americans waging a "war on the poor." Racial and ethnic discrimination remains one of the critical elements affecting homelessness, and is reflected in the disproportionate negative impact of policies relating to homelessness on people of color.

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Thanks to Derrick Bell and his pioneer work: 
Race, Racism and American Law