top of page

Click button to join the conversation!


Or, type in 'systemic racism' in search bar 


Black, Homeless and Burdened by L.A.’s Legacy of Racism

#homeless #la

Homelessness is Los Angeles’s defining crisis. Income inequality, a shortage of housing, failing mental health services and drug addiction all contribute to growing scenes of squalor across America’s second-largest city. The federal government recently estimated that a nearly 3 percent rise in homelessness nationwide this year was driven mostly by California.

Yet it does not affect everyone equally. The historic displacement and fracturing of black communities in South Los Angeles have pushed black Angelenos like Mr. Wynn onto the streets at more than eight times the rate of other groups. In interviews with more than a dozen black men who are homeless in Los Angeles, the bitter inheritance of racism came up again and again.

Peter Lynn, the longtime head of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, said discrimination played a major role in the origins of the crisis. “There is a staggering overrepresentation of black people in homelessness, and that is not based on poverty,” he said. “That is based on structural and institutional racism.”

Marqueece Harris-Dawson, a City Council member who represents communities in South Los Angeles, said, “The homelessness crisis we are living in now is the result of a housing crisis that has been in the making for decades.”

Decades of Displacement

Like many black families during the Second Great Migration, Mr. Wynn’s parents came to Los Angeles in the 1950s, seeking an escape from segregation and a path to a middle class life.

“Better life, job opportunities,” Mr Wynn said. “At that time California was booming. It was, ‘Go West.’”

But his family arrived in Los Angeles at a time of discrimination in housing and mortgage lending, which largely restricted black families to certain neighborhoods in South Los Angeles.

Through a practice known as redlining, real estate agents and lenders marked these neighborhoods as areas undesirable for investment, preventing residents from obtaining home loans.

By 1970, three-quarters of Los Angeles County’s black population lived in just two dozen neighborhoods in South L.A. That concentration made the area a center of black culture and the site of a burgeoning black middle class.

When manufacturing jobs declined in the 1980s, black unemployment nearly doubled. Drugs and gangs ravaged the neighborhoods, kicking off a period of black flight. Harsh policing and high incarceration hollowed out the community.

In the 1990s, Latinos started moving to the area and the cost of living rose. Black residents moved to Inglewood and the Crenshaw corridor, or out of the county entirely.

These maps show the loss of majority-black neighborhoods in Los Angeles County over the last 50 years.

By 2000, South L.A. had a new racial makeup. Once predominantly black spaces were now majority Latino, and the black residents who remained were among the city’s poorest. The Great Recession hit them the hardest while the recovery offered them the least. About a third of South L.A.’s black residents now live in poverty.

“It has been a vicious barrage of public and private policies and actions that have placed and will continue to place black individuals and families into a downward spiral into poverty,” said Chancela Al-Mansour, the director of a local housing advocacy group.

And the poor are least able to cope with L.A.’s skyrocketing housing costs. As rents rise across the county, they are rising faster in South L.A. Black households there have a particularly hard time affording rent.

Across the county, a third of black households experience severe rent burdens, with their housing costs equaling half or more of their income.

In South L.A., the share of black households experiencing severe rent burdens is about 50 percent.

South L.A. — once the heart of the city’s black life — is now the epicenter of housing instability for black Angelenos. It is where black residents are most at risk of falling into homelessness.

Latinos in the area do not experience homelessness at nearly the same rate as African-Americans. Experts cite a variety of reasons. Rates of homelessness among white Angelenos are similar to those of Latinos, at about one in 100 residents. Asians and Pacific Islanders in Los Angeles experience homelessness at even lower rates.