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Cityscape: Volume 13 Number 1 | Chapter 2


Discovering Homelessness

Volume 13 Num 1

From Exclusion to Destitution: Race, Affordable Housing, and Homelessness

George R. Carter III, U.S. Census Bureau

As with the articles in this issue, this introduction reflects the views of the authors and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.


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.

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