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Race, ethnicity and experiences of homelessness

Carmen Clarke, Homeless Link Associate, shares her insights from updating the Race, ethnicity, and experiences of homelessness course.

According to recent data, Black people are more likely to be arrested for being homeless under the Vagrancy Act. Highlighting that this outdated legislation not only unjustly criminalises rough sleeping but also serves as a stark reminder of the racism experienced by people facing homelessness.

Discussing racism can be challenging for many and people react in various ways – such as denial, discomfort, anger, fear of saying the “wrong” thing, and pain (felt by people who are subjected to said racism). But racism profoundly affects the lives of many people in the homelessness sector – people who use services and those providing support.

The training course I updated for Homeless Link on Race, ethnicity and experiences of homelessness offers a full day for practitioners to engage with these challenges in an inclusive environment. The course draws on recent research by Shelterthe Joseph Rowntree FoundationHeriot-Watt University et al, alongside other learning and experiences.

Whilst addressing individual racism is important, recognising and dealing with systemic racism is vital. This refers to structural and institutional factors such as political, social and economic issues, racist policies, processes and attitudes that often work together to create racial and ethnic disparities in homelessness systems and beyond. For example, research shows that racially minoritised people are three to five times more likely than white British people to be discriminated against when looking for a home due to issues such as poverty and racially focused policies. We can choose to engage with the issues and do something about them or allow the status quo to prevail.

Responding proactively involves learning for us all and the training encourages sharing of experiences, good practice, and insights amongst course participants. Racial justice is everyone’s business and we all have something to contribute – from CEO’s, senior leadership and policy makers to frontline workers, administrative and maintenance staff.

Some research findings were quite revealing for me, including that people from some ethnic backgrounds experience particular types of homelessness far more than others. Being aware of this in our work can make a huge difference to understanding people’s circumstances, identifying potential risks to their safety, providing the most appropriate assistance, and working with them to recognise their own potential support structures.

There are various aspects to the training, including conversation about language and terminology. This is important because language is powerful and can influence the way that we perceive and treat people. For many years, ethnically diverse people have been treated as one homogenous group and this disregards the richness of cultures and histories, and consequently misses (or dismisses) the unique needs of people from vastly different places. Gypsy, Roma & Traveller people, Arab & Middle Eastern people, Black people, Asian people, Jewish people, Mixed-heritage people, Refugees and people seeking asylum - all have varied lives, traditions, and experiences of other discrimination that intersects with racism. Differences within diverse communities also exist and demonstrate the complexity and nuance of humanity!

The training facilitates a deeper understanding of homelessness faced by people from different race and ethnicities. I looked for organisations working within or connected to the sector that are led by those communities to bring in their voices and expertise. I also have personal and professional experience of the impact of immigration processes, which are also a factor in homelessness. As professionals, we talk a lot about multi-agency working to enhance outcomes for people accessing services. Course participants will receive a workbook that supports their learning and provides information and resources that includes the details of the organisations I found and assistance they offer. Practitioners are encouraged to connect with these services, and others, as they can be a key link in multi-agency frameworks that help to put diverse people and communities at the centre of homelessness support and interventions with them.

Homelessness can also impact ethnically diverse work colleagues or people close to them, and the training could help to identify any such concerns and to offer practical, compassionate support. This training is open to all and we recognise that it can be emotionally taxing for people with lived experience of racism to relearn about inequities faced. Learning together and working together towards racial justice is important. So we encourage attendance from people at all levels of your organisation who are not racially or ethnically marginalised, and to be proactive in your response.

Building knowledge and understanding is good, however meaningful change requires sustained action. There are many things that practitioners and services can do, and the training supports this process. For example, checking personal biases that can perpetuate harm and oppression; developing cultural competence that enables effective interaction with people from ethnically diverse backgrounds; reviewing policies and internal systems that may have racial stereotypes embedded; delivering trauma informed services that respond to cultural differences.

We can all take responsibility to step into the discomfort and work to promote and influence racial justice in the homelessness sector and beyond.

Channel website: http://www.homelesslink.org.uk

Original article link: https://homeless.org.uk/news/race-ethnicity-and-experiences-of-homelessness/

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