Houselessness and Racism

In the week following the tragic murder of George Floyd, we decided to do a Martha Project event in his honor and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

This event was incredibly compelling and heart-wrenching. The mood of the volunteers was dusted with a layer of somber and covered with forced smiles hiding some of the pain, fear, and confusion held deep inside our hearts. 

At first glance it’s easy to maybe not fully understand how feeding the houseless community was such an important thing to do that weekend. Some of us painted signs and rushed out to the protests, some of us attempted to become digital warriors and allies, signing every petition and sharing every article and story we could find on the internet. Some of us picked up the phone called and complained to the sheriffs office demanding justice. Some of us were just starting to realize we actually didn’t have it figured out, and had to download books to educate ourselves about what racism really was and what white privilege meant. Some of us were just simply paralyzed in pain, glued to our couches, tied to our comfort foods, watching the last little flicker of hope fade out as we became numb to what we watched on the news. There’s so much going on, why are we taking time to talk about houselessness when it’s clear that the most important topic right now is racism right? Well, we continued because we understood that houselessness is a racial issue.

African Americans represent 13% of the general population but account for 40% of people experiencing homelessness as a direct result of systemic racism.

What is this systemic racism? 

It is racism and biases baked into our societies structure and it can be traced back to as early as the 1930s in America with the “red lining” of neighborhoods keeping Black Americans segregated from white neighborhoods. This red lining also affected what school district you’d have access to. Black Americans were kept from access to a higher quality of education and to this day are paid on average 13-15% less than their white coworkers in the same positions. 

On top of the wage gap and limited access to higher education, Black Americans have been kept from quality healthcare while being racially profiled and convicted of petty crimes with harsher sentences then white Americans, leading to 64% of Black families facing single parent homes. This leads to a slew of other struggles making those children more susceptible to emotional distress and trauma throughout their lives. 

It’s not one racial injustice that lead to the disproportionate number of Black Americans facing houseless, it’s a slew of may huge and micro transgressions of racism that Black Americans are face to cope with alone every day in this country. 

Black houselessness is a racial issue and deserves our attention. So with that we pushed forward with the Martha Project. I asked volunteers to come in all black clothing to show reverence for the loss of George Floyd and many other victims of racial violence. We lit candles and sat in silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, in disbelief at how long that actually is while we let our sorrow drip from our eyes. When it was over I led the group in a prayer for our country and healing for George Floyd’s family. We gathered ourselves and hit the streets to be the change. We gave love, held eye contact and fed our community. Racism is poison but in the words of one of my favorite teachers:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

- Dr. Martin Luther King