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Dropping racially biased tool create more equitable access to services

Nationally and in Hennepin, people of color are overrepresented in the homeless response system. However, on average, people of color receive significantly lower priority scores for housing and supportive services than their white counterparts. With higher scores, white people receive more referrals to housing and resources.

Communities across the country have questioned the validity of the nationally used screening tool — the Vulnerability Index — Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Prescreening Tool (VI-SPDAT), saying it was not culturally appropriate or trauma-informed.

The Center for Social Innovation (C4) used a racial equity lens to sift through data from four geographic regions that used the screening tool. Their report, “Coordinated Entry Systems Racial Equity Analysis of Assessment Data," concluded:

  • People of color received statistically lower prioritization scores than their white counterparts.
  • White persons are prioritized for permanent supportive housing interventions at higher rates than people of color.
  • Race is a predictor of receiving a high score where being white was a protective factor for single adults.
  • The tool did not equitably capture vulnerabilities for people of color. The scales tip toward capturing vulnerabilities that whites are more likely to report.

As of March 24, 2020, Hennepin County suspended use of the tool and moved to conduct screenings based on disability, chronic homelessness and number of months being homeless.

Hennepin County has adopted the Racial Equity Impact Tool to use when it creates or changes policies and services.

“Ensuring equity at every level is complicated, but the community and county leadership are enthusiastic and committed to change,” said former Disparity Reduction Assistant County Administrator Chela Guzmán-Wiegert.

This story reflects Hennepin County disparity reduction priorities in housing and justice.