The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is turning to the San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless and similar groups nationwide to look at why some minority groups are overrepresented among the homeless.
Task force board member Pat Leslie, director of the Social Work Program at Point Loma Nazarene University, wrote a response to HUD’s request last year for data on the racial and ethnic breakdown of the local homeless population. The request was part of the application forms for HUD funding in 2019.
“On a national level, it does show there’s a disparity of minorities who are homeless,” Leslie said.
That disparity also exists in San Diego, but isn’t as pronounced the national numbers, she added.
As reported last year in HUD’s annual report to Congress, people who identify as black or African American made up about 13 percent of the general population in 2018 but represented about 40 percent of the homeless population nationally.
Black people make up 5.5 percent of San Diego County’s population but about 28 percent of the local homeless population, according to the task force.
While the local disparity isn’t as high as the national one, Leslie said the data shows there is a problem.
“In essence, this says, ‘Yep, San Diego sort of looks like the rest of the nation,'” she said.
Leslie said the request for the data was a surprise to the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, and she speculated that HUD could follow-up the request with ways to address the disparity in the future.
HUD spokesman Brian Sullivan said the agency historically has collected data on the homeless, but didn’t say what would come from it.
“We ask a lot of questions so we can better understand who is out there and homeless,” he said about the new data requests. “It’s really probably just a variation on a theme.”
HUD works nationwide with about 400 organizations called Continuums of Care, including the San Diego Regional Task Force on the Homeless, and Sullivan said the federal agency would not mandate any of them follow a particular program.
But Leslie said HUD does base its funding allocations, such as the ones released Friday, on a complex formula that includes how it responds to requests for data. Requesting Continuums of Care to look into possible disparities in their own communities has raised awareness of the issue, which she said can lead to action.
“Just like we noticed the number of homeless veterans and said, ‘We need to do something about this,'” she said.
Data was not compiled from the annual Point-in-Time Count but rather was gathered from service providers throughout the county who tracked how many homeless people needed help in one year. At 15,000, that number is significantly higher than the 2018 point-in-time total, which was about 8,600 homeless people.
The data showed people who identify as white made up about 62 percent of the homeless population in 2018, while countywide they made up about 76 percent of the homeless population.
Hispanic and Latino populations were identified by ethnicity rather than race in the report.
In San Diego County, 34 percent of the population identifies as Hispanic or Latino, while the data compiled by the task force showed they were mathematically underrepresented in the region’s homeless population at 28 percent.
Nationally, that group is overrepresented in the homeless population. About 22 percent of homeless people nationwide identified as Hispanic or Latino, while the 2010 Census showed Hispanics and Latinos made up 16 percent of the population.
The percentage of homeless Asian people is less than both the local and national general population numbers. In San Diego, Asian people make up 12.5 percent of the county’s population but only 2 percent of the county population.
What does it all mean? Leslie, who has led studies on homelessness at Point Loma Nazarene University, said finding out could be the next step.
“I’d like to see us do a deeper dive,” she said.
Looking at the disparity of black or African American people who are homeless compared to the general population, Leslie speculated that one cause could be access to housing. She said there also could be lessons in exploring the relatively small percentage of homeless people who identify as Asian.
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