The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a plan to assess the needs of homeless Native Americans.
“A dark history of racism, genocide, and systemic discrimination make American Indians more likely to experience poverty and homelessness,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn, who co-authored the motion with Supervisor Hilda Solis.
“We need a better understanding of how many members of these communities are experiencing homelessness and we need to put in place culturally-inclusive services to help lift them off the streets and into homes.”
Solis said the communities in question often mistrust government agencies.
“Homelessness among American Indians and Alaska Natives in L.A. County has its roots in centuries of discrimination. Today, L.A. County will initiate systemic changes to right this wrong,” Solis said. “In order to accomplish this, we must recognize Native Americans and Alaska Natives often do not trust government agencies due to years of marginalization and mistreatment.”
The county is home to the largest population of American Indians and Alaska Natives in the United States, according to Hahn.
A history of systemic racism and genocide mean that this population endures disproportionate symptoms of intergenerational trauma such as mental health issues, chronic disease, substance use, and economic hardship that put individuals at greater risk for homelessness, Hahn said.
However, relevant statistics have proven hard to track.
In addition for calling for an evaluation of the population and its specific needs, the board directed staffers to identify properties that could be used for culturally inclusive permanent supportive housing.
A member of the Los Angeles City/County Native American Indian Commission said the number of homeless individuals in that community was rising dramatically.
“This population experienced a 68% increase in homelessness last year,” Pat Lopez said. “As the economy has improved in general, it has not translated to Indian country. It is still in dire economic straits.”
Native Americans come to the city seeking jobs and services, as well as a native community organized around traditional ceremonies and prayer circles, Lopez said.
“They become homeless in the process, being far from home,” she added.
And sometimes they go uncounted or unaided by government programs.
“For too long our American Indian and Alaska Native community has been invisible in the eyes of the systems meant to serve our most under-resourced communities, particularly those experiencing homelessness,” said Andrea Garcia, another member of the commission.