The old stereotype of homeless persons in America was that of a middle-aged white single male alcoholic. Although this may describe a majority of the homeless populations before the 1980s, the current homeless populations in the United States is younger, includes a large of number of families comprised mostly of women and their children, are more severely poor, and are becoming increasingly ethnically diverse.
African Americans are over-represented in all subgroups of homeless persons including homeless adults, families, and adolescents. Those who identify themselves as African Americans represent 12% of the United States population. Despite this, African Americans are over represented among homeless persons and represent 50% of the homeless population in the US. In some US cities, African Americans make up an even larger portion of the homeless population.
For example in Buffalo, New York, African Americans comprise 68% of homeless adults and in Detroit, Michigan; African Americans comprise 85% of the homeless population. African Americans appear to be most heavily over represented among homeless adults and families, and somewhat less so among homeless adolescents.
Explaining the Over Representation Existing social inequities the growing numbers of persons in poverty, the lack of affordable housing, and the loss of well-paying unskilled jobs are all factors that have been attributed as causes of the surge of homelessness that began in the 1980s. However, additional historic and structural factors that may be unique to African Americans, including racism, discrimination, and a lack of access to higher education, can be seen as contributing to the disparity between the overall percentage of African Americans in the US and the percentage of African Americans who are homeless. Research also suggests that African Americans are more likely to become homeless as a result of external factors, including chronic and pervasive poverty, while European Americans more experience homelessness due to internal factors such as mental illness, family dysfunction, and substance abuse.