Minorities and Homelessness in the United States and Europe: A Comparative Analysis

By Carmen Radu
2012, Vol. 4 No. 12 | pg. 11/12 |

Therefore, only three Caucasian men had criminal justice backgrounds comparable to those of African Americans. In comparison, they were also pressured to plead guilty, and some felt that public defenders were not in their best interest; similarly to African Americans, they had no support coming out of jail and ended up on the streets, with difficulties finding employment. It is difficult to determine whether the African American men interviewed had a tougher time as a result of the criminal background, but what is clear is that minorities are more affected by these issues and these are connected to homelessness.

It is important to note that none of the immigrants had any criminal justice backgrounds. As previously noted, immigrants did not have any direct experiences with discrimination, and they did not have issues with addictions or mental health. Many were college educated, though their education was from the country of origin. The homelessness of the immigrants interviewed was driven by lack of employment. Within this context, lack of documentation was only a driver for three of the eleven immigrants. Participant #21, a male, is an undocumented immigrant from Honduras who came to Miami in 1980, and was issued a temporary green card in 1985. He worked legal jobs in carpentry for a time period until his documents expired, after which he moved to DC and worked illegally at Home Depot. During this time period, he was able to pay for rental and motels until he had a car accident in which the other driver hit and run, resulting in a physical disability. He was no longer able to work full time, was in the hospital for a year, and has been homeless since 2006. He was not allowed to stay with his brother in Miami because the brother and his family live in public housing (interview with participant #21, June 18, 2012). Clearly, the main reason for his homelessness is lack of family support, documents to work legally, and the physical disability. Because he lacks documents, he did not receive any unemployment benefits and he is not able to receive disability benefits from the government. He currently has a free immigration lawyer (interview with participant #21, June 18, 2012).

Participant #24 is another undocumented immigrant who emigrated from Sierra Leone in 1982. He is fifty two years old and unemployed at the time of the interview, though he had periods of working while homeless for day labor jobs or dishwashing in restaurants. Before becoming homeless, he stayed with friends and later rented a place for a short period of time. He was able to get a DC ID because he had a fake social security number. He is not currently receiving any benefits and does not understand why he was terminated from health care. Participant #24 has an immigration lawyer but does not feel the lawyer is helpful; he also stated that “I have no money…I’m unaware of the system” (interview with participant #24, June 28, 2012).

The third undocumented immigrant is also a male. Participant #25 is a forty-three years old immigrant from Argentina who has been in the United States for twelve years. He was initially documented as he came on a work visa but it expired when he was laid off. He lost his apartment a few months after losing the job. He did not have much money saved up because he was sending remittances to Argentina. Just as the two other undocumented persons, participant #25 is not receiving any welfare benefits or health care (interview with participant #25, July 10, 2012).

Documented immigrants were also less likely to receive welfare benefits than African Americans or Caucasians; only five documented immigrants had benefits while all of the other groups expressed that they were receiving benefits. This is also because some documented immigrants lacked information, were confused and intimidated by the application process, or were not interested (interview with participant #19, June 18, 2012). For example, participant #18 believed that the type of green card he has does not make him eligible for benefits. He is legally blind and is not allowed to drive. He came to the United States from Ethiopia in 2010 with the visa lottery program, which issues permanent green cards. He originally came to DC and stayed with friends, then was legally employed at a chicken farm in North Carolina but the contract ended. He moved back to DC but was not accepted to stay with his friend, and is unemployed and looking. He has no family in the United States, has difficulties getting around (interview with participant #18, June 13, 2012). The main reason for his homelessness is mainly lack of employment (interview with participant #18, June 13, 2012).

Even though most of the immigrants interviewed were documented, their vulnerabilities were similar to the undocumented. All the immigrants had been in the United States for years but felt estranged and found it difficult to reach stability financially. Remittances and supporting family back home seemed to be an important factor. For example, participant #22 immigrated to the United States in 1979 as a political prisoner from Cuba, with legal documents. He moved to DC in 2002 after no longer being able to find a job in Miami. Since he has been in DC, he has lived in the shelter while working part time at Safeway and sending money to his family in Cuba (interview with participant #22, June 18, 2012). Participant #23 immigrated to the United States from Russia in 1999 legally, and was self-employed as a full time driver. When his wife fell ill, they moved to DC to be able to visit a cancer center. They did not have enough money to rent a place, so him and his wife are staying at different shelters (interview with participant #23, June 18, 2012).

Table 9. Interview-based research results as compared to the study hypotheses


Interview-informed research results

1a. Exclusion of undocumented immigrants

Supported -both in Europe and the United States

1b. Direct discrimination in the housing market plays a much stronger role in Europe than in the United States


2. Individual vulnerabilities

Not Supported

-the majority did not have mental or addiction issues, though a significant amount did

-immigrants were less likely to have individual vulnerabilities

-Caucasians were more likely to have physical disabilities or mental issues

3. Low job skills and education hindering access to employment coupled with lack of affordable housing and education; lack of family support


-although most participants had some college and technical skills training, these are no longer enough to succeed in the economy

-all of the women interviewed were single; for black men, this intersected with time in prisons;

-most did not access family for help, reflecting culture of

individualism and destruction of the nuclear family

4. Categorically defined differences in the experience of homelessness; markers of durable inequality, social exclusion, and discrimination present


-approximately half of African Americans experienced discrimination

-examples of opportunity hoarding and exploitation present

-African American males and discrimination in the criminal justice system

Therefore, with regards to the hypothesis that markers of categorical inequality, social exclusion, and direct or indirect discrimination are evident in the experience of homelessness of immigrants and African Americans, results show support. However, from the interviews it cannot be concluded that parents of African Americans were less likely to own a home or that discriminatory lending and foreclosures affected a significant number of African American participants. It was supported African Americans experienced discrimination, which in some cases led to loss of employment. In addition, most African American males had a criminal background and had racially motivated negative experiences with the system. The interviews support the life course hypothesis, and a link was found between incarceration and homelessness; although some Caucasians had such backgrounds, this disproportionately affected blacks. None of the immigrants had criminal backgrounds, addictions, or mental illnesses, and only 27% were undocumented. However, just as was the case with mental illness, it must be noted that other undocumented immigrants might not have wanted to participate in the interviews because of fear. The main reason for immigrant homelessness was lack of support and employment; there was not much difference between the experiences of the undocumented and documented, only that the undocumented were ineligible for welfare benefits.

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