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Lived Experience

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NCH focuses our policies and programs around lifting up the voices of people who have been homeless, or are currently experiencing homelessness. We understand these to be the true experts on the issues and solutions surrounding the decades long political failure of homelessness. NCH works hand-in-hand with grassroots organizers and organizations, trains and employs advocates who have been homeless, and takes direction from the voices of those who have been most impacted by the lack of a permanent home. 

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Racial Equity

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Stats on Racial Inequity of Homelessness

  1. The 2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR): African Americans represent 13% of the general population but account for 40% of people experiencing homelessness
  2. The 2016, Center for Social Innovation SPARC (Supporting Partnerships for Anti- Racist Communities): Approximately 2/3 of people experiencing homelessness in SPARC communities were Black (64.7%), In total, 78.3% of people experiencing homelessness were people of color
  3. Black people were the most overrepresented among individuals ages 18-24 experiencing homelessness, accounting for 78.0% of this group. 

Structural Racism and Homelessness

The compounded history of redlining, disinvestment, and other forms of discrimination have created the current system of institutional racism which disproportionately impacts communities of color in the United States. While racism can be practiced through individual prejudice, negative thoughts or stereotypes about a particular racial group, it is also widely practiced within larger institutions and structures of social life. This practice, structural or institutional racism plays a significant role in creating and maintaining the disparate outcomes that characterize the landscape of racial inequality. 

It is necessary to advocate for Racial Equity in Homeless Service Provision, organizational management, and advocacy, in order to help people of color out of homelessness. In addition to mitigating long-term effects of structural racism, the solutions recognized as critical in combating homelessness – job training, affordable housing, services, among others– would no longer be confronted with the additional barriers of structural racism. 

Advocating on Behalf of Racial Equity

The 2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) communicates that Black people continue to be overrepresented amongst the homeless. It is imperative that steps are taken in order to undo the structural forces that continue to lead to these results.

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has started awarding points for addressing racial disparities in the most recent Continuum of Care (CoC) funding application. In order to continue the plight for racial justice in homelessness, HUD should increase Bonus points in NOFA for Racial Equity and mandate Racial Equity training in order to qualify for CoC funds. Furthermore, a non-biased, science based prioritization tool needs to be implemented in order to assess vulnerability needs. Finally, the state can create a pathway to homeownership for people of color via the Housing Choice Voucher Program. 

#TBT – Hoboes, bums, tramps: How our terminology of homelessness has changed

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Resentment and fear of the homeless is nothing new. Vagrancy was criminalized in England four centuries before the American Revolution; in 1547, England began branding those arrested for vagrancy with a “V” for “vagabond”. Those arrested a second time could be executed.

Attitudes have shifted over time, as has terminology. While “bum” is a derogatory term for someone without a fixed residence and regular employment, terms like “hobo” and “tramp” conjure up nostalgia that belies the difficulty in their wandering lifestyles.

Copied from the Hobo Times' Hobo Travel Guide by Bobb Hopkins

Copied from the Hobo Times’ Hobo Travel Guide by Bobb Hopkins

“Hoboes” emerged in the U.S. after the Civil War, when many men were out of work and their families displaced. The term emerged in the American West around 1890, though its origins are hazy. Some say it was an abbreviation of “homeward bound” or “homeless boy”; author Bill Bryson wrote in his 1998 book “Made in America” that it may have come from “Ho, beau!”, a railroad greeting.

“Tramps” also came out of the Civil War era, with the term, originally from England referring to “tramping about”, becoming Americanized as a term for a long war march. While the term came into use around the same time as “hobo”, they means different things. Depression-era writer H. L. Mencken wrote, “Tramps and hobos are commonly lumped together, but see themselves as sharply differentiated. A hobo or bo is simply a migratory laborer; he may take some longish holidays, but sooner or later he returns to work. A tramp never works if it can be avoided; he simply travels.”

After their post-Civil War emergence, hoboes and tramps became prominent again during the Great Depression. While we may today think of a hobo as a laid-back free spirit riding the rails with a bindle for a pillow, the mass migration of these laborers was born of destitution and desperation, akin to the life of the Joads portrayed in John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”.

In a 2003 interview, Todd DePastino, author of “Citizen Hobo: How a Century of Homelessness Shaped America”, said, “One famous quip had it that the hobo works and wanders, the tramp drinks and wanders, and the bum just drinks. More accurately the tramp, the hobo, and the bum represent three historical stages of American homelessness. … Hoboes were by and large more organized, militant, independent, and political than [tramps]. The widespread use of the word ‘bum’ after World War II signals the end of this colorful subculture of transient labor.”

The terms “homeless” and “homelessness” came into lexicon in the 1970’s and 1980’s, when modern homelessness began to appear. Terminology used to denote persons living outdoors or in inadequate or inappropriate dwellings continues to evolve, as many in the service sector now choose to say “people experiencing homelessness” or “persons with lived experience.” Whatever the terminology, no one should have to experience homelessness, especially in a country as wealthy as the United States.

hobo poem and other books

**Special thanks to Michael Stoops for helping us to remember our history**

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