Photo by Bradford Rogne Photography

United Way’s recent “State of Black LA” report paints a grim picture about homelessness among Black Angelenos. But this isn’t just an LA issue; cities like San Francisco, San Diego, and Sacramento share similar challenges. Though data are clear, illuminating the gravity of the situation, effective solutions remain elusive. However, cross-sector collaboration may offer a promising path forward for communities across California.  

The report reveals that Black Angelenos make up 30% of LA County’s homeless population, despite being less than 10% of the overall population. This disparity mirrors trends statewide. Black Californians, while representing about 5% of the state’s residents, accounted for over a quarter of those seeking assistance from a homeless service provider in the 2021-22 fiscal year.  

Public discourse often attributes homelessness to poverty—a dangerous oversimplification. In reality, the disproportionate impact on Black and other communities of color is associated with an intricate web of social and economic policy failures: historical and ongoing systemic inequalities range from redlining and employment barriers to the far-reaching negative consequences of mass incarceration.  

Sam Prater (Courtesy photo)

Such intricate issues are often termed as a ‘wicked problems.’ These are complex and intractable problems that often defy the capacity of any individual sector to address alone. While they are inherently resistant to resolution, they are not insurmountable. 

Cross-sector collaboration emerges as one promising key. When organizations, spanning public, private, and non-profit sectors, unite their strengths, resources, and expertise, they can craft comprehensive and holistic solutions that tackles the roots of these wicked problems. These are not isolated interventions, but rather synergistic collaborations to amplify impact. 

Enter Los Angeles Room & Board (LARNB). 

Standing as a testament to the potential of cross-sector collaboration, LARNB is a local nonprofit that offers affordable transitional housing and holistic support to community college students—a significant number of whom are students of color, LGBTQ+, or come from the foster care system.  

In partnership with the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) in 2022, LARNB lobbied governmental entities to Champion the housing needs of California’s vast community college student population. Their advocacy results in Assembly Bill No. 132 (AB-132), allocating $100 million across the California Community College system, emphasizing collaboration between colleges and community entities experienced in addressing homelessness. 

By Spring 2022, this vision came into fruition. LARNB, alongside four other youth homeless service providers, launched a pilot initiative with LACCD, offering housing and support to 100 students. More than just shelter, this initiative provided students with a foundation for academic success. By supporting their education, the program aims to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness, particularly for students from marginalized communities, recognizing that barriers to education can be a contributing factor to ongoing socio-economic challenges. 

In the face of depressing data, as presented by the ‘State of Black LA’ report, it’s collaborations like that of LARNB and LACCD that offer a glimmer of hope. While homelessness, especially among Black Californians, remains a pressing issue, examples such as this one illustrates the power of combined efforts across sectors. Addressing the roots of systemic issues requires both understanding and unity. And as the challenges of cities like LA, San Francisco, and San Diego demonstrate, it’s high time for more such collaborative efforts to come to the forefront. 


Dr. Royel M. Johnson is associate professor and chair in the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California, where he is also director of the National Assessment of Collegiate Campus Climates in the USC Race and Equity Center. He is the lead editor of “Racial Equity on College Campuses: Connecting Research and Practice.” 


Sam Prater is Founder of Los Angeles Room & Board. He is a native of Detroit and has spent his career advocating for student success in housing contexts.