Systemic Racism

CHNO acknowledges the harm caused by systemic racism. Systemic racism impacts the education, career paths, and opportunities open to people of color.

Facts & Figures

“From slavery to segregation, African Americans have been systemically denied rights and socioeconomic opportunities. Other minority groups, including Indigenous and Latinx people, share similar histories. The disproportionality in homelessness is a by-product of systemic inequity” -The National Alliance to End Homelessness

Chapin Hall of the University of Chicago estimates that for Black and African American youth, the risk of homelessness is 83% higher and for nonwhite Hispanic or Latinx youth, it is 33% higher than it is for their white peers. 

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), in their 2019 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report, shows people of color experience homelessness at rates disproportionate to their share of the American demographic pie. According to HUD, Black and African American people comprise 40% of all people facing homelessness, though they are only 13% of the U.S. population. Hispanic and Latinx people make up 22% of the homeless population and 18.5% of the overall U.S. population. And Native American people face homelessness at about three times their population share of 1.3%.

Among young people facing homelessness, the statistics stretch even further. The Bassuk Center, through its Supporting Partnerships for Anti-Racist Communities (SPARC) program, studied youth homelessness in six U.S. communities (Atlanta, GA; Columbus, OH; Dallas, TX; San Francisco, CA; Syracuse, NY; and Pierce County, WA) and found that Black youth were the most overrepresented group among all young people facing homelessness ages 18-24. Black youth accounted for 78% of this population, and all young people of color accounted for nearly 90%.

These statistics mirror in large part the young people who find shelter and safety at Covenant House in the United States, where 62%—nearly two-thirds—of the young people in our care are Black or African American. They, along with Hispanic or Latinx youth (18%), Native American/Alaska Native youth (6%) and other youth (5%), comprise 91% of all the young people in our houses from New York to Anchorage. Our white youth represent 9% of the total. 

“People of color are dramatically more likely than white people to experience homelessness in the United States. This is no accident; it is the result of centuries of structural racism that have excluded historically oppressed people—particularly Black and Native Americans—from equal housing, community supports, and opportunities for economic mobility,” affirms the SPARC program report.

Systemic Racism

Pathways to youth homelessness that include problematic foster placements or aging out of foster care, poverty and economic disadvantage, lack of access to housing, uncompleted high school education, and criminal justice involvement, prejudice facing communities of color, particularly Black communities, reveal the ongoing harm caused by systemic racism.

According to statistics cited by the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL), about one in three Black and American Indian/Alaska Native children and one in four Latinx children live below the poverty line in the U.S., compared to one in nine White children. In 2019, Black families comprised just over half (52%) of all families experiencing homelessness, according to HUD. In 2016, about 25% of the children and youth in foster care were Black. 

“Schools … have become pathways to prison,” M4BL notes. “Black students are more likely than White students to be suspended, expelled, subjected to corporal punishment, arrested, and referred to law enforcement while attending school, and are routinely denied the opportunity to fully participate in public education.” During the 2013-2014 school year, the organization adds, 40% of the students who faced suspension from public school were Black, though they were only 15.5% of the student body.

In addition, M4BL says, “Black youth are systematically profiled and targeted by police, and make up 35% of arrests of people under 18.” Black youth in general are twice as likely as their White peers to be arrested, and Black women ages 18-19 are four times as likely to be arrested as White women the same age. Furthermore, Black children are nine times more likely than White children to receive an adult prison sentence once arrested.

Journalist Justin Worland, writing for Time magazine, notes that where housing is concerned, “The obstruction of Black homeownership, among other factors, has left African Americans poorer and more economically vulnerable, with the average Black household worth $17,000 in 2016 while the average white household was worth 10 times that.”

Worland continues, “The neighborhoods where Black Americans often find themselves confined by a legacy of discriminatory policy are rife with pollution and, in many cases, lack even basic options for nutritious food. This leaves residents more likely to suffer from health ailments like asthma and diabetes, both of which increase the chances of poor outcomes for those infected with COVID-19.” In fact, according to CDC data analyzed by The New York Times, African American and Latinx residents of the U.S. have been three times as likely to become infected with the coronavirus as their white neighbors. 

Racial Discrimination and Trauma

Racism negatively impacts a young person’s sense of self. Youth establish critical aspects of their identity within the various environments, influences and exposures that surround them. “These forces can either create tension and deliver toxic levels of stress or build resilience and other strengths,” says the book “Reaching Teens” in a new chapter devoted to examining the impacts of racism on young people.

Racism also attempts to lock young people of color into low expectations for their lives, the authors add. Two-thirds of Black and Latinx youth attend segregated schools that often have lower budgets that impact class size, teacher qualifications, and the availability of instructional resources. “In these schools, youth of color are subject to biased perceptions of misbehavior by educators and stories that perpetuate a ‘failure narrative,’” the writers underscore.

Racism figures among what psychologists and social workers call “adverse childhood experiences,” or ACEs. Initially considered to be related primarily to trauma that youth experience in the home, such as abuse and neglect, ACEs are now understood to include stressors that occur outside the home as well, such as community violence, living in unsafe neighborhoods, and racial discrimination.

Adverse childhood experiences, including racism, have been found to lead to physical health conditions such as heart disease, autoimmune disorders, cancer, emphysema, diabetes, and fractures, and to mental health conditions such as substance use, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Racism is making our young people ill.

But these negative results are not etched in stone. Research also tells us that the presence of caring adults and positive relationships are protective factors that can mitigate against the harsh effects of ACEs, including racism. With the right set of supports, young people of color can overcome ACEs and live into their full potential. 

Covenant House is guided by five principles that are informed by the trauma we encounter every day among our youth. In addition to immediate care and sanctuary, our principles include value communication (modeling caring relationships based on love, trust, respect, and honesty), structure (especially stability), and choice (by which we encourage youth to believe in themselves and make informed choices for themselves).

As a society, we can accompany young people of color in facing the traumatic effects of racism if we will all do a better job of being their allies, encouraging their capacity for resilience, and remembering, as the chapter authors remind us, “We belong to each other.”

Racial Discrimination in New Orleans

According to the most recent American Community Survey (ACS), 59.53% of New Orleans residents are Black or African American. Meanwhile, 79% of Covenant House youth are Black or African American. The disproportionate demographics of Covenant House New Orleans residents is indicative of the systemic racism taking place within our own city.  

NAACP President Derrick Johnson defines systemic racism as “systems and structures that have procedures or processes that disadvantages African Americans.” Systemic (or institutional) racism is the complex interaction of society, culture, and institutions that subjugate BIPOC both overtly or covertly. 

Beyond national and global implications of this institution in US society, within New Orleans this takes unique forms. New Orleans is a southern city with a long and complicated history. Systemic racism takes the form of over-criminalization of BIPOC, disproportionate poverty levels, remnants of segregated housing, unequal education resources in lower income areas, and many more existing societal structures. 

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness “The implications of over-criminalization are far-reaching: a criminal history can keep people from successfully passing background checks to secure both housing and employment. People exiting jails and prisons often face significant problems in accessing safe and affordable housing and their rate of homelessness is high.” Louisiana has the highest rates of incarceration in the United States, which therefore amplifies the effects of over-criminalization and involvement in the justice system in securing safe and affordable housing for these populations. This creates a cycle of over-criminalization and homelessness that disproportionately affects BIPOC. 

Systemic racism in New Orleans also exists uniquely in a post-Katrina city. Lower-income and minority communities were disproportionately affected by the hurricane, and the lower-income areas of the city have seen significantly slower regrowth post-storm. New Orleans itself also has a deep history as a southern city. Mardi Gras floats and parades are oftentimes steeped in racist depictions of BIPOC and veiled by the guise of tradition. To learn more about racism within Mardi Gras please visit the resource linked at the bottom of this page.

How you can help

For more information please contact volunteernola@covenanthouse.org.