Blog Archives - Invisible People

Homelessness Is a Symptom of Racism: Interview with Jeff Olivet and Marc Dones

“What we do not say often enough or loudly enough is that racism and homelessness are inextricably linked. Yes, racism. It is time to speak truth. It is time to call it what it is.” ~ Jeff Olivet

Please watch and share this important video interview with Jeff Olivet and Marc Dones. It’s an important conversation we need to keep front and center. If we are ever going to end homelessness, we need to address racism head on!

The first time I met Jeff Olivet was back in 2010 when we shared the stage speaking at a homeless conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I am not the best public speaker, but I can typically hold my own. Jeff’s talk on the history of homelessness completely blew me off stage.

Fast forward to 2015. Jeff and I were once again keynoting a homeless services conference. I was fully prepared for Jeff to educate the audience on the crisis of homelessness. However, when this middle-aged white man opened his presentation with the statement, “Homelessness is a symptom of racism”, he once again blew me away.

While Jeff’s talk was spot on, the subject of homelessness and racism is a difficult and painful topic. As is the nature of conversations like this, they often seem to disappear, never to be brought up again. I didn’t think it would gain traction.

The good news is I was wrong and this conversation continues to take center stage. Jeff, who is CEO of the Center for Social Innovation, and Marc Done, Associate of Equity Initiatives & Diversity, regularly speak about homelessness and racism around the country. In fact, Jeff and Marc were invited to the White House Policy Briefing on Ending Youth Homelessness this past June. Read the “transcript of their talk” here [link].

Here is a short excerpt:

“More than 40 percent of people using shelter in the U.S. each year are African American, nearly three times their portion of the general population. A 2011 study by George Carter from the Census Bureau found that even when controlling for poverty, African Americans were dramatically more likely than Whites to become homeless, and there is some evidence that they stay homeless longer. It is more than a coincidence that Black children under 5 years old are 29 times more likely than their White counterparts to end up in the shelters of New York and Philadelphia–data reported by Culhane and Metraux. The only other racial group that comes close to these rates of homelessness is Native Americans. Again, no accident.”

Marc Dones added:

“There is a deep and abiding problem inside the picture of American homelessness that unequivocally points towards our racialized and racist policy history. For the adult population, the systematic exclusion of people of color, and specifically black people, from the housing market via redlining and housing covenants functionally meant that black people were largely excluded from home ownership until roughly 1970 after the passing and partial implementation of the Fair Housing Act.”

Homelessness Is a Symptom of Racism: Interview with @jeffolivet and @marcformarc Click To Tweet

For more information here are a few links:

Homelessness Is a Symptom of Racism

Homelessness, Racism and Social Justice

Racism and Homelessness by Jeff Olivet [PDF]

Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program Is Saving Lives!

Life on the streets is hard. Far too often people experiencing homeless die on the streets. It’s horrible when anyone dies homeless, yet it’s even worse that most of the deaths can be avoided. Homeless people are often thought of as being survivors, but what I learned from Dr. Jim O’Connell in an interview I recorded five years ago, the death rate of people experiencing homelessness is higher than any other subgroup in America.

A few months back I was honored to be able to visit Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program, which is one place I have been trying to visit ever since I first met Dr. Jim O’Connell. Many years ago we were invited to be on the leadership team when 100,000 Homes Campaign was just starting. Although I was once homeless myself, I was just learning about homeless service models, and Dr. Jim, besides being a really nice guy, he quickly rose to my hero list. A tour of the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program was on my bucket list.

Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program’s integrated care model unites physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, case managers and behavioral health professionals to provide healthcare services and support to people experiencing homelessness. At the time of this interview, BHCHP had over 25 physicians, 40 nurse practitioners, and 100 nurses providing services both out on the streets and in over 60 locations including shelters and hospitals.

While touring Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program’s facilities, I could not help but notice it was at a whole different level than other homeless health care services I have visited. It was as if I was walking through a real hospital. I turned to Dr. Munson to ask how is this even possible, and he informed me that in Massachusetts people who are chronically homeless are covered by Medicaid. That’s simply amazing!

As I travel, there is not a lot of difference between what homelessness looks like except when traveling to countries that provide health care to everyone! In the UK for example, you do not see people with disabilities and mental illness on the streets like you do here. Either heath care engages so a person is never homeless or when someone ends up on the streets health care helps them get the support they need to get out of homelessness.

Boston Health Care for the Homeless ProgramYesterday while walking around Boston I met an older homeless man. Jim told me that just last week he had a tumor removed. I asked him if he knew of Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program. He informed me Dr. Jim O’Connell and Dr. David Munson are his doctors and went on to say he is on a list for housing to get off the streets!

No one should die out on the streets homeless! Please support the health care for the homeless programs in your community.

Related video: Tommy ended up in the hospital for pneumonia from sleeping outside.

Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program Is Saving Lives! Click To Tweet

Smartphone & Social Media: A Solution to Combat Homelessness | TEDxSyracuseUniversity

TEDx Syracuse University Mark Horvath

Four out of five smartphone users check their phones within the first 15 minutes of waking up. 80% of those say it’s the first thing they do in the morning. 44% of cell owners have slept with their phone next to their bed because they wanted to make sure they didn’t miss any calls, text messages, or other updates during the night. 29% of cell owners describe their cell phone as “something they can’t imagine living without. 56% of children, age 8 to 12, have a cellphone.

Mobile technology has become a way of life, yet when the general public sees a homeless person with a cellphone or a laptop, they freak out. The very tools we all take for granted can help people experiencing homelessness better their lives and get out of homelessness.

The very tools we all take for granted can help people experiencing homelessness better their… Click To Tweet

It’s Our Fault People Stay on the Streets

It’s very common for homeless service providers to say “They don’t want our help. They don’t want to be told what to do. They want to be homeless”. Let me ask you, does anyone want to be told what to do? We live in a world where, for the most part, we have freedom of choice, yet we offer people experiencing homelessness a world where they have to get up when we tell them to, stand in line for food when we tell them to, eat what we tell them to, go to bed when we tell them to, take a shower when we tell them to, and so on. Many faith-based organizations add on to this forced religious programming and church attendance. In far too many situations we offer people experiencing homelessness a world with very little choice.

There is a very serious problem when a person would rather sleep outside instead of receiving support, and the problem is not the person. The problem is what we are offering is so often without dignity and freedom of choice!

Photo: Alison Guillory


Lanny Tribute: Good-bye Lanny. Thank You for Changing My Life

I was working as an outreach case manager when Glendale Police called about a homeless man they found in an abandoned building. Upon arrival I found a scared older man huddled in a corner in the worst possible condition a human being can be. I took Lanny back to our facility and offered him a shower and some clean clothes.

Over the next few years Lanny and I became close friends. I would look for him almost every day when I was working outreach, and when I was traveling with Invisible People, Lanny would inquire with my co-workers asking for information about my return.tumblr_mj4dgpLNhN1qzqiq0o1_1280

I committed to getting Lanny off the streets. It took 3 and a half years to get him into housing, but once he had his own place that provided personal dignity, the transformation for the better was immediate.

This video on Housing First helps share that part of the story

Lanny passed away this week. Last time I hung out with Lanny was last January. I stopped by his apartment and took him to dinner.

Although I am saddened by Lanny’s death, I know he had a good life in his very own apartment the last few years.

Lanny is proof we can end homelessness. There are a lot more Lanny’s still on the street. We MUST do everything we can to end homelessness for EVERYONE!

Lanny changed my life in ways. I am grateful for the bond we developed. Lanny will be missed.

Good-bye Lanny. I love you!


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