NJCounts 2019 Reveals Racial Disparity in Population Experiencing Homelessness in NJ

NJ’s Homeless Population Sees Different Rates of Substance Abuse, Mainstream Benefits, and Common Cause of Homelessness

NJCounts 2019, the statewide Point-in-Time count of the homeless identified racial disparities within the population experiencing homelessness in New Jersey.

Disparities in who experiences homelessness highlight the impact of a pervasive structural force: Systemic Racism. Acknowledging and understanding the impact of systemic racism on those experiencing homelessness is key to developing an effective system responsive to the community and strengthened in cultural understanding and awareness.

In looking at the racial breakdown of those experiencing homelessness in relation to the racial breakdown of the general population and those living in poverty, disparate impacts along racial lines become evident.

NJCounts 2019 found that on the night of January 22, 2019, a total of 8,864 men, women and children in 6,748 households were identified as experiencing homelessness in the state of New Jersey. This was an overall decrease in the number of men, women and children experiencing homelessness with of 439 persons (5%) identified in 2019 from the number of persons identified in 2018.

Monarch Housing Associate’s Nadine Azari highlighted for us more specific data that points to both the racial disparities within the homeless population, the characteristics of the homeless population and the cause of their homelessness broken down by race.

Disparities along racial lines in the population experiencing homelessness are seen in a number of areas. Persons identifying as Black or African American made up the majority of sheltered persons, 3,678 persons (51.5%), and unsheltered persons, 698 persons (49.4%), identified in the Point-in-Time count. What can be done to ensure the that system working to end homelessness is responding to the needs of the homeless population with cultural understanding and awareness?

Persons identifying as white were more likely to have a disability or a substance abuse disorder than persons of color. Seventy percent of persons identifying as White identified as having a disability, compared to 44% of persons identifying as Black or African American and 44% of persons identifying as Hispanic/Latino, showing that there is even a disparity in who reports a disability. Thirty-seven percent (37%) of persons identifying as White reported a substance abuse disorder, compared to 20% of persons identifying as Hispanic/Latino and 19% of persons identifying as Black or African American.

The most common cause of homelessness among persons identifying as White was drug/alcohol abuse (13%), whereas the most common cause of homelessness among persons identifying as Black or African American and Hispanic/Latino was Asked to Leave a Shared Residence (16% and 11%, respectively).

Looking at these common causes of homelessness, are those experiencing homelessness who identify as white more likely to have a well-resourced network of family and friends to stay with before experiencing homelessness? The Supporting Partnerships for Anti-Racist Communities (SPARC) Phase One Study findings from the Center for Social Information, released in March 2018, refers to the lack of family and friend connections that have extra resources to share with homeless persons of color as “Network Impoverishment.”

“Network Impoverishment” is a phenomenon in which not only an individual or family lacks the resources to prevent or end homelessness, but their entire network of friends and family may not have any resources to spare.  If an individual or family is at risk of homelessness and can receive or borrow money from through their network of family and friends who have the capital to pay for a few months’ rent or to repair a car to get to work, this capital can often prevent homelessness.

Forty-six percent (46%) of persons identifying as White reported receiving Medicaid, as compared to 39% of persons identifying as Black or African American and 33% of persons identifying as Hispanic/Latino. Does this imply that more outreach is necessary to ensure that populations experiencing homelessness identifying as Black or African American or Hispanic/Latino receive Medicaid as the same rate as the population identifying as White?

In New Jersey, NJCounts is coordinated on a single day across the state allowing for comparable data across all communities from year to year. Monarch Housing Associates has coordinated NJCounts since 2014 as commissioned by the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency.