Minorities and Homelessness in the United States and Europe: A Comparative Analysis
Results from the field research part of this study reflected many of the factors discussed in the literature review as to the causes of homelessness and minority homelessness in particular. In the beginning, I argued that minorities are overrepresented among the homeless because of durable inequality; the exploitative relationship established during slavery and colonialism depended on the construction of categorical boundaries. These boundaries have become durable and continue to limit or deny certain groups access to resources such as equal jobs, wages, and housing. This was found to be the case in all countries under study. The hypothesis that undocumented immigrants are ineligible for homelessness and welfare assistance is supported in all cases. As opposed to Europe, I did not find instances of direct discrimination in the housing market in the U.S. In general, direct discrimination seems to play a bigger role in Europe than in the United States. On both continents, the structures of durable inequality influence minority homelessness trends despite progress in laws ensuring equal treatment and barring discrimination.
In terms of other comparisons between Europe and the United States, I found that homeless persons are more likely to be employed while homeless in the United States. Perhaps this is because the employment markets are more open than in Europe. Direct discrimination in the United States was most evident among African Americans once the person was already employed. Furthermore, there is a link between minority overrepresentations in the criminal justice systems and homelessness in both the US and UK, while this does not seem to be an issue in the other European countries. On both continents, immigrants were significantly less likely to display individual level vulnerabilities.The results of the U.S. field research indicate that a major cause of minority homelessness is durable inequality, whereby African Americans are more likely to be affected by structural factors that lead to homelessness such as lack of family support, low education and skill levels, and the life course phenomenon. African American males are more likely to be imprisoned. Individual level factors such as drug abuse, mental health, and addictions were not as crucial, though African American males were more likely to experience the drugs-criminal justice link. Social workers in the United States supported the durable inequality hypothesis. Minority homelessness must be viewed within the prism of human dignity and respect for the full spectrum of rights. Governments must first recognize that an overrepresentation of minorities among the homeless is a problem, and then must address overall wellbeing and life courses of minorities, through particular attention to the link between civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. The human rights approach can challenge durable inequality by challenging exploitative relationships, improving overall quality of life for disadvantaged groups.
In addition to these lessons, as I was conducting the study new questions were raised and topics for further research became evident. Within the context of understanding why minorities are overrepresented, a comparison of the length of time it takes different racial/ethnic groups to get out of homelessness could be a clear indicator of discrimination: in the United States, do Caucasians have more access to resources or upward mobility to get out of homelessness faster (interview with Altaf Husain, June 21, 2012)? Family homelessness is another topic of further research and has been recognized as an emerging crisis. There aren’t enough family shelters in DC to meet this rising need. There has not yet been a study conducted to show a correlation between the economic crisis and rise of family homelessness in the United States (interview with Altaf Husain, June 21, 2012). Comparative studies can also be conducted to determine whether this phenomenon is encountered in Europe as well.
Finally, another topic of further research would be discrimination against people that are homeless once they become homeless, simply because of their status as homeless. All of the people who were interviewed expressed a tendency to hide the fact they are homeless from employers and others for fear of discriminatory treatment. It would be worthwhile to conduct a study determining how these dynamics hold people back from getting out of homelessness. In particular, discriminatory treatment against people who are homeless and have a sex offense in their background should also be studied.
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1.) In the United Kingdom, statutory homeless are people that have a legal claim to housing as considered by the legal authorities. In order to be eligible, one must lack a secure place to live, must have dependent children, apply for homelessness assistance, prove unintentional homelessness, and must pass a series of tests (CRISIS, Statutory Homelessness, 2012. http://www.crisis.org.uk/pages/homeless-def-numbers.html#_ftn).
2.) This research was approved by the Institutional Research Board in the spring semester of 2012.
3.) Names of some participants are being kept confidential.