On May 1, Jordan Neely was killed by Daniel Penny, who placed him in a fatal chokehold on a New York City subway. Neely, a 30-year-old Black man who was experiencing homelessness, was reportedly shouting that he was hungry and thirsty on the subway train.
In New York City on a single night in 2022, 74,178 people were experiencing homelessness. Jordan Neely is believed to be one of those people1.
People who identify as Black make up just 12 percent of the total U.S. population but comprise 37 percent of all people experiencing homelessness. Black people experience homelessness at a rate of 48 people for every 10,000 people in the United States, more than four times the rate at which white people experience homelessness2. Of the more than 582,000 people in America who experienced homelessness on a given night in 2022, nearly 1 in 5 had a behavioral health issue. While the rate of serious mental illness may not vary by race, studies show African Americans have more difficulty accessing treatment3.
People experiencing homelessness are at increased risk of developing mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)4. Individual contributors that increase the likelihood of experiencing homelessness include cognitive impairment, pre-existing medical conditions, unemployment, and family instability as well as traumatic experiences early in life5. While new services like dial-988 have helped to activate mental health crisis response for the homeless, it is typically the police who are called upon who often have limited response options beyond taking people to jail or a hospital with people ending up back on the street or in encampments6.
Despite insufficient funding for shelter and supportive, affordable housing, a movement to criminalize unsheltered homelessness is also gaining traction in select states through legislation that bans camping and encampments. Most of these criminalization bills have three features in common: a statewide camping ban with criminal penalties for people experiencing homelessness, a policy of “sanctioned” camps or temporary shelters aimed at corralling people into designated places, and financial penalties for local jurisdictions that refuse to enforce the camping ban7.
Jordan Neely lost his life on the first day of May, the month officially designated to raise public awareness about mental health. The Cloudburst Group, who has partnered with many communities to implement strategies to prevent and end homelessness, grieves the senseless death of Jordan Neely. Cloudburst remains vigilant in its commitment to end homelessness, particularly for unsheltered people whose lives are at increased risk because of mental health issues.
Image: Person of color experiencing homelessness in Santa Monica, California.
What You Can Do
Learn more about the potential criminalization of homelessness in your state https://endhomelessness.org/what-communities-need-to-know-about-the-criminalization-of-homelessness/
Learn more about the Cloudburst Group’s work to end homelessness: https://cloudburstgroup.com/services/homeless-assistance-programs/
Advocate at the national and local level for programs that serve people with multiple barriers to housing. Learn more by connecting with your local homeless coalition or service provider!
1 HUD Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) 2022
2HUD Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) 2022
3National Alliance to End Homelessness: https://endhomelessness.org/homelessness-in-america/what-causes-homelessness/inequality/
5SAMHSA Advisory, Behavioral Health Services for People who are Homeless, https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/pep20-06-04-003.pdf
6Rand Corporation: https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RRA108-6.html
7Take a stand against homelessness criminalization: https://endhomelessness.org/blog/take-a-stand-against-criminalization-of-homelessness/