Nationally, people of color are overrepresented in the homeless population (Jones, 2016; NAEH, 2018a; Carter, 2011). Stakeholders and policymakers are identifying
the system-level factors that may be contributing to, reinforcing, and perpetuating these racial inequities. Across the U.S., Continuums of Care (CoCs) are tasked with building and implementing systems to meet the needs of homeless individuals and families, but these community planning bodies have limited resources and scarce housing alternatives. In recognition of the importance of prioritizing individuals and families with the greatest need, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requires that Continuums of Care “establish and operate either a centralized or coordinated assessment system that provides an initial, comprehensive assessment of the needs of individuals and families for housing and services” [24 CFR 578.7(a)(8)].
Stakeholders and providers have raised concerns about the limited evidence of validity and reliability in commonly-used CES assessment tools (e.g., the VI-SPDAT). CoCs and other community stakeholders have reported anecdotal evidence that CES assessments lead to a prioritization of White people for housing resources over Black and Indigenous People/ Person(s) of Color (BIPOC). If prioritization tools are not equitable, CESs are not meeting the needs of the people they serve and may be causing or perpetuating racial inequities at a critical juncture in the homelessness response system.
In partnership with Building Changes and four CoCs, C4 Innovations conducted an analysis designed to examine the potential for CES assessments to perpetuate racial inequities. Our analysis was guided by two research questions:
1. According to CES assessment data, are White people more likely to be prioritized for permanent housing compared to BIPOC?
2. Which subscales of the VI-SPDAT predict vulnerability, and thus housing needs, across racial groups? Are there methods or proxy variables that can be transformed to result in more equitable prioritization?
Our results included the following:
• On average, BIPOC clients receive statistically significantly lower prioritization scores on the VI-SPDAT than their White counterparts;
• According to VI-SPDAT data White individuals are prioritized for Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) intervention at a higher rate than BIPOC individuals, though this is not true for families;
• Race is a predictor of receiving a high score (i.e., an assessment for Permanent Supportive Housing/ Housing First), where being white was a protective factor for single adults;
• VI-SPDAT subscales do not equitably capture vulnerabilities for BIPOC compared to Whites: race is a predictor of 11/16 subscales, and most subscales are tilted towards capturing vulnerabilities that Whites are more likely to endorse.
Our methodology, findings, and implications are presented herein and are discussed with a racial equity lens and recommendations for communities, future research, and national policy action and transformation.