Community & Behavioral Health | Recovery | Social Change

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Changing the Conversation

Racism & Homelessness: Justice is Not Something You Pray For. It’s Something You Implement.

These remarks were delivered by Marc Dones [MD] and Jeff Olivet [JO] of the Center for Social Innovation at the National Conference on Ending Homelessness in Washington, DC on July 18, 2017 in response to U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson’s address.

MD: Data drives specific and appropriate responses. And our national understanding of homelessness has been missing a critical dimension. There is a blind spot in our collective analysis, and therefore in our collective response. Our local and national strategies to end homelessness have not acknowledged the racial realities of homelessness—that structural racism is a major driver of homelessness. [Read more about "Fixing the Structural Causes of Homelessness."]

Coming Together to Address Racism & Homelessness

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This blog is the transcript of a talk delivered by Jeff Olivet in San Francisco on October 17, 2016 at the kickoff of the Center for Social Innovation’s national racism and homelessness initiative, SPARC (Supporting Partnerships for Anti-Racist Communities).

When I began as a street outreach worker two decades ago, I was told that homelessness was a problem of affordable housing. It certainly is that. I was also told it was a problem with access to mental health care, addiction treatment, and healthcare for all. In some ways, it certainly is that also. The impression we got was that homelessness was somehow a type of person, a personal failing, or a choice...all of the stereotypes that each of you hears in your everyday work.

It soon became very clear to me that there is something more going on.

Open Our Eyes, Open Our Mouths: Do Something about Racism & Homelessness

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This blog is taken from a transcript of a talk given by Jeff Olivet at the African Meeting House in Boston on April 14, 2016, in which Jeff was joined by Marc Dones from the Center for Social Innovation and Massachusetts Commissioner of Public Health, Dr. Monica Bharel.

We Have a Problem
What an amazing thing to be in this place. A place where powerful voices and powerful leaders and powerful thinkers and powerful activists have changed the world...abolished slavery...fought for equality and human rights. It is a profound experience to stand up here at this podium. And it’s hard for me to say, but I’m here to tell you that we’ve got a problem. We got a problem that we don’t talk about a lot, so we’re going to talk about it now.

Fixing the Structural Causes of Homelessness

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When I began working with people experiencing homelessness more than two decades ago, I viewed homelessness as an isolated social issue. I, like many, thought that the causes of homelessness had to do with unemployment, mental illness, addiction, and domestic violence. What I quickly learned—in large part from the people I worked with in shelters and on the streets—was that individual vulnerabilities were not root causes. These were individual risk factors that helped determine who might slip through the cracks into homelessness. The root causes had more to do with the lack of decent affordable housing and our frayed (or non-existent) health and human services safety net. I came to understand that ending homelessness for an individual or family requires permanent housing coupled with services and supports to maintain stability.