COVID-19: Racial Equity Op Ed

Read our full Racial Equity Statement in regard to the COVID-19 response and learn about the critical steps our community can take now.


Call to Action: Race, Homelessness, and COVID-19 

It’s time to talk about race. The COVID-19 pandemic has put in clear relief the underlying relationship between housing, healthcare, and systemic racism in our country. It’s time to dedicate the time, attention, and resources to addressing race in the face of COVID by creating a taskforce specifically aimed at addressing the racial inequities that mean a disproportionate number of Black and Brown people are dyingWe must act on this issue and save lives.  

Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen communities across the nation experiencing a mounting overrepresentation of Black and Brown people contracting and ultimately dying due to the pandemicSimilar to what we see consistently in homelessness data, there is an overrepresentation of certain races and ethnicities, specifically Black people and Native Americans.  For example, in Chicago, a city where just 30% of its overall population is Black, 70% of COVID-related deaths are among the Black community. Denver Public Health data shows Colorado isn’t immune to this disparityIn Denver, 12% of the COVID cases are Black people, yet they comprise a mere 8% of the overall population. This isn’t a conservative vs. progressive issue. It’s a nationwide issue of character and values. This reality is unacceptable. And, it’s disgraceful.  

Keeping our entire community safe during COVID-19 requires social distancing, sheltering in place, and reliable access to hygiene. For our unhoused neighbors, none of these are possible, adding to the uncertainty during this incredibly dangerous time. In Colorado, data on COVID-19 death rates are currently available only by geography, not by race. Thankfully a recent shift will now make this data available moving forward, but this comes as we’re already weeks into this pandemic and valuable time was lost.  

Unfortunately, the same racial disparities that are manifesting themselves in the COVID-19 crisis mirror the systemic racism found in our community’s homelessness crisis. For example, in the metro-Denver area, there is a vast over-representation of people who identify as Black or African American experiencing homelessness. An individual is four times more likely to experience homelessness if they are Black and 12 times more likely if Native American than White.  The overrepresentation of Black and Native American people has long been an issue in homelessness, and as the weeks of social isolation and quarantine stretch on, we are seeing the same alarming trends that are present in homelessness play out in COVID-19-related death rates. We can’t afford to ignore the realities of systemic racism in this country and its impact on basic needs and health. If we do, more people will die, and their deaths will be a direct result of our unwillingness to meaningfully address systemic racial inequities. 

Recognizing that racial inequity is entrenched in the homelessness crisis, over the past year MDHI, with the leadership of the MDHI Equity and Accessibility Committee, has made a resolute commitment to addressing the systemic flaws in our homelessness response and housing system. During COVID-19, we cannot shelve racial equity. MDHI is not only confirming our commitment to racial equity in our response, we are asking it be a priority to metro-Denver's COVID-19 response to ensure our community does not join the many others in ignoring the importance of this issue in fighting this pandemic. We are holding firmly to our standards of racial equity and are focused on housing as a solution not just to homelessness, but to this worldwide pandemic as we believe this is the only path to keep all our housed and unhoused neighbors safe. Racial equity must be central in all responses to the pandemic.   

MDHI’s Equity and Accessibility Committee crafted several key recommendations to address the racial inequities in our community during COVID-19. Among them is a call for a statewide taskforcelike those being created in other states, tasked with a racially equitable system design and intended to prohibit racially inequitable healthcare and housing outcomes during the COVID-19 response. It is a moral imperative the taskforce include individuals with lived experience of homelessness and from other marginalized communities, along with decision-makers from healthcare, public health, community leaders, lawmakers, the faith community, and other community stakeholders to come together for swift action on this issue. Lived experience will bring a critical viewpoint to the activities of this taskforceIncluding representation from many different communities will help to ensure no communitys needs are neglected or undervalued during this time of urgency and expediency. We’re asking for action to save lives. Let’s ensure Colorado uses this crisis as an opportunity to redress the profound harms of racial inequity in both our housing and healthcare systems 

Matt Meyer, Ph.D.
Executive Director, MDHI


Read our full Racial Equity Statement in regard to the COVID-19 response and learn about the critical steps our community can take now.