The Numbers Concerning Racial Inequity and Health Disparities Don’t Lie

As published in the San Francisco Bay Times, September 19, 2019
By Brett Andrews

In October of 2017, I wrote an article for the San Francisco Bay Times that focused on the city’s Point-in-Time Count, which is a report primarily informed by a citywide survey of those homeless on any particular evening. The results of the survey captured the state of the city’s homeless situation, reporting approximately 7,500 unhoused as well as alarming demographic statistics for people of color—specifically African Americans.

At that time, African Americans made up approximately only 5% of San Francisco’s general population, but disproportionally 36% of the homeless population. Since that report and subsequent article, I have paid particular attention to San Francisco’s homeless numbers, in addition to monitoring reports of other contributing factors that impact an individual’s overall health and well-being including HIV, mental health, and substance use disorders. I am loathe to share that in all three of these other critical areas, all have similar outcomes of racial inequity and health disparities.

Earlier this year, another Point-in-Time Count was conducted. It boar out similar numbers and statistics. The number of unhoused individuals increased by nearly one thousand to approximately 8,000, and the percent of homeless African Americans represented in the study increased by one percent (37%).

This month, the Department of Public Health released the 2018 HIV Epidemiological Annual Report. And while there were many trends and successes to note—like the number of new HIV diagnoses dropping below 200 to 197 (the lowest ever recorded) or no new births diagnosed with HIV—there were other alarming disparities and health inequities, such as new HIV diagnoses having increased among African Americans and Latinx populations, with African Americans at the highest rate.

The Behavioral Health and Homelessness in San Francisco: Needs and Opportunities report was also recently released. It cited that of the 18,000 adults who experienced homelessness at some point in their lives and received health care or social services in the city, 4,000 were also suffering from mental health and substance use disorders. Of those 4,000 individuals, 36% were African American.

Part of me thinks that this is the place where I should be putting forth an all-encompassing panacea that will somehow magically address the historic and systemic racism that allowed these and so many other societal challenges to persist and promulgate. Alas, I do not have it, nor do any of us.

What I do have is an invitation for all of us to care for and love humanity even more—don’t ignore it, even in its sometimes-unpleasant state. We are all a work in progress, and exist as someone more than our circumstances. It’s going to take all of us coming together to begin to love ourselves and each other in deeper and more profound ways that may test our desire, will, and patience.

When we see the tattered women on the street or young person that may have one too many tattoos for our liking, reach deeper into your heart and find compassion enough to extend a kind thought or a gesture of generosity. Toni Morrison once said, “Love is divine only and difficult always. If you think it is easy you are a fool. If you think it is natural you are blind.”