By Josh Spring
Homelessness and poverty in this city (and country) are major issues of race and racism. In almost every building we go in to work with Residents to organize and fight to save their homes, probably 98% or more of the households in the building are Black. In nearly every case where we have seen buildings emptied and gentrified, nearly all of the Residents are Black and almost all of the people who eventually move into the emptied buildings are white. Seventy percent of people in the shelter system are Black. Certainly the majority of people in the largest, yet uncounted and predominately unassisted, group of people experiencing homelessness; people bouncing from couch to couch to unfamiliar and unsafe couches; are Black. Most people waiting hours in the lobby at the Hamilton County Jobs and Family Services office are Black. The majority of people sitting in Hamilton County eviction court are Black. The unemployment rate for African Americans in Cincinnati is quadruple that of whites. Seventy-six percent of households experiencing poverty in Cincinnati are Black. In Cincinnati Black people have a significantly shorter expected lifespan than whites. This list could keep going with more examples.
Despite all sorts of rhetoric over the years meant to convince us that we have improved so much or that the local government or local companies or local civic groups care about equal opportunity and justice, Black people in Cincinnati bear the weight of generations of a racist city. As soon as some white people read a sentence like that, they get angry and talk about their supposed personal beliefs and stances, etc. But, while we can deny the truth and choose to look at our city through lying lenses, we are still wrong. In my experience it is much harder for people who have more access to opportunity and means to see the big, systematic picture, because they have rarely or never needed to band together or struggle to change an oppressive situation or policy. Let’s be honest; a city in which Black people are evicted, displaced, live in unhealthy conditions, experience homelessness, are unemployed, are experiencing poverty and will die sooner than white people is a racist city. There can be no logical debate on this matter.
What would it take to fix this problem? Often when this question is asked politicians and businesses like to “answer” it by gathering financially-well-to-do people together to “figure out” the causes and create flashy, fluffy “solutions”. They do this to distract from what the problems and solutions really are. They do this - to in a masked fashion - blame Black people. They do this because the real solutions require massive change that would significantly decrease their power, influence, finances and comfort. The solution includes an end to gentrification and displacement, living wage jobs, a focus on employee wages and citizen affordability over profit, the construction of affordable housing, access to healthcare, taxing of stock options, neighborhood-serving and run businesses over luxury bars and eclectic furniture stores, major “criminal justice” reforms, campaign finance reform, just cause eviction law, local hire requirements, etc. We don’t need more flashy, puffy, fake ideas. We don’t need more super wealthy white people putting together another “plan” instead of repenting and turning from their oppressive, systematically racist ways.
Here is the thing, the super wealthy white people are not going to turn from their oppressive systematically racist ways on their own or by choice. This has to be forced by an overwhelming push of the People. And by the way, the often-heard statement that goes something like this when weakly referring to corporate CEO’s who receive tens of millions in salaries each year and how they should change: “Well there is nothing wrong with making a lot of money, I am happy for them, but they should…” is total BS. A person receiving millions in salaries each year is wrong and is oppressive to so many other people. Any effort to combat homelessness and poverty in Cincinnati that does not work to topple the racist structures in this city, will not ever work.