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A wide racial disparity between homeless Black and white people comes as no surprise to Springfield’s Black Lives Matter

woman at podium
Illinois Department of Human Services
Christine Haley, chief of Illinois' Office to Prevent and End Homelessness, speaks at a recent press conference.

Blacks are eight times more likely to be homeless than whites in the capital city’s county – also in the state as whole: a disparity double that of the nation, according to a research unit at the University of Illinois Chicago, which released its report at a recent press conference.

“Unquestionably, as the report shows, it's not unique to our community. But there's a very clear disparity among who experiences homelessness and people of color are disproportionately affected in a very clear way. So while that's true throughout the state, it's absolutely true here in Springfield, as well,” said Josh Sabo, executive director of Heartland Housed.

“I think we recognize that there's also a disproportionate effect of poverty and several other points of racial disparity in our community, that are contributing factors, to pushing people into homelessness,’’ he said. “We've put measures in place to do everything we can to ensure that everybody is getting access to housing in our community.”

Sunshine Clemons, a founder of Black Lives Matter Springfield and its co-leader said she believes the unequal burden of being unhoused is the result of systemic racism.

“We all know the history of redlining – we can trace it back to the ’20s and ‘30s. But it's still happening now even with rental properties. Then if you look at the rates of what's offered by race,''' she said. "Black people are denied more. When we are approved, we're often approved for the same thing at higher rates. All of that factors into the homelessness disparities. You're looking at a population that historically makes less money, but are being charged more for the same services. “

Christine Haley, chief of The Office to Prevent and End Homelessness, said, “Illinois has the second highest Black-white racial disparity in homelessness in the country. We need to reflect wholly on that reality and utilize it to strengthen our collective will and resolve to close the disparity. Our success in ending homelessness is tied to the success and ending this disparity.”

Iván Arenas, an author of the Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy at UIC, which completed the report, said, “A history of racist policies and laws and social discrimination have dramatically favored white people, leaving Black people with a lack of resources. When compared to white residents. Black residents in Illinois have fewer opportunities to find stable housing, suitable employment, financial security, quality health care, affordable childcare, inadequate schooling, differences and access to resources and opportunities for growth along racial lines make it more likely for black individuals and families to become unhoused and once unhoused make it much more difficult for them to regain their stability.

“The report outlines how structural factors such as the lack of affordable housing, evictions, incarceration, unemployment, health care access and aging out of foster care often pushed black residents in Illinois toward homelessness. The same factors don't affect white residents as much leading to the racial disparities and homelessness we see in our state,” he said.

He said addressing the situation will require comprehensive policy changes.

“These include short term solutions such as continued financial assistance for Black families that are housing insecure, and also long term strategies that dismantle systemic barriers contributing to racial inequities and homelessness, such as ending mass incarceration.”

Sabo, executive director of Heartland Housed, said, “The state’s program to address the homelessness issue, “Home Illinois funding has had a significant impact on the number of housing opportunities available for people experiencing homelessness in our community, and we are hopeful that increases in funding will help to build upon that. As we work to increasingly improve the local system of care, we are committed to equitable delivery of services that will connect people to supportive housing opportunities.”

Gov. JB Pritzker said he wants to see the state expand its existing $200 million effort in Home Illinois to be increased by $50 million.

Pritzker said, “This includes $35 million in housing, court-based rental assistance and $2 million for legal aid assistance for those in eviction court. That will mean the difference between stability and homelessness for many. We're dedicating $13 million specifically to work on reducing racial disparities in homelessness. These funds will pilot programs that reach at risk populations, such as formerly incarcerated individuals and foster youth to connect them with safe and dignified housing and support

Sabo said, “We'll wait to see how the funding materializes out of the governor's report and plan. You know, I think any, any efforts ultimately to address homelessness can and should address the disparity of folks experiencing homelessness. So I'm certain that they'll have a positive impact. And to the degree our community gets some of that funding, but also across the state as well.’

Haley, chief of The Office to Prevent and End Homelessness, said, “Today, we are moving away from the dominant narratives that homelessness is caused by substance use and mental illness. We are moving away from the false narratives that homelessness is caused by hanging out with the wrong crowd and making bad decisions. Today, we reject those false narratives and lean into the evidence. We strive to understand the systemic root causes of homelessness, and the deep racial disparities that exist within it. “

According to the UIC report, “the disparity figure varies widely across local areas. In general, Black

homelessness is worse in northern Illinois than southern Illinois, particularly in the wealthy counties surrounding Chicago. In 2022, west suburban DuPage County had the highest rate of Black homelessness in the state with 651 Black residents per 100,000 experiencing homelessness.

“In contrast, white homelessness in DuPage County is less than the

statewide rate with 35 white residents per 100,000 experiencing homelessness.

These differences translate to Black DuPage County residents being nearly 19 times

more likely to be homeless than white residents, a disparity that is the fourth worst of

all counties in the country.”

Maureen Foertsch McKinney is news editor and equity and justice beat reporter for NPR Illinois, where she has been on the staff since 2014 after Illinois Issues magazine’s merger with the station. She joined the magazine’s staff in 1998 as projects editor and became managing editor in 2003. Prior to coming to the University of Illinois Springfield, she was an education reporter and copy editor at three local newspapers, including the suburban Chicago Daily Herald, She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Eastern Illinois University and a master’s degree in English from UIS.
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