What makes these communities so unique is how they are accomplishing reaching functional zero: by enhancing entire systems.
Communities around the country collect real-time data including compiling lists of those who are homeless.
This data collection enhances the understanding of the ever-changing problem of homelessness.
These communities link into a national network in order to share their effective strategies and prove their positive performance.
This type of command-center-led coordination effort is what helped eradicate small pox in the United States.
Rockford, Illinois was the first community in the US to reach the functional level zero for ending veteran homelessness and the second community in the country for ending chronic homelessness. Bergen County was the first to end chronic homelessness.
According to Jennifer Jaeger, the Rockford’s community services director, “Every person who is homeless in our community that we are aware of goes on our by-name list, which is broken out by subpopulations: chronic, veteran, family, single and youth. Then we get everybody in our community who works on the issue, whether it’s veteran or chronic or youth homelessness, and we bring them into a room.”
Jaeger adds, “So if we’re working on veterans, we’ll have the V.A., the local veteran agencies, mental health agencies and substance abuse agencies, and we’ll sit down with the list and say: ‘O.K., John Smith is No. 1. Who’s working with him? How do we get him housed as fast as we can?’ And we go literally name by name. It makes a huge difference because they stop being ‘the homeless’ and become people we all know. And we become very vested in making sure John Smith is housed and safe and has the services he needs to stay housed.”
This approach is not only effective, but it brings dignity to those affected by homelessness, by personalizing the approach to help each individual.
Seventy-seven communities, including Rockford, are part of the Built for Zero initiative which is coordinated by Community Solutions. This organization led the 100,000 Homes Campaign, launched in 2010 which aimed to provide permanent housing for 100,000 individuals affected by chronic homelessness. Although this campaign did successfully place 105,580 people in permanent housing, more people became homeless than were getting housed.
The Built for Zero initiative helps ensure that the overall number of homeless is decreasing by gathering and sharing real-time data. Local successes are turned into mini case studies and added into the initiative’s menu of strategies so other communities can pursue the same options.
Many may think that homelessness comes down to money and resources. Ms. Roseanne Haggerty, the President and CEO of Community Solutions, thinks otherwise.
“It was the construction of a surveillance system — a culture of iteration, habits of ongoing problem solving, understanding that it needs to be a team, data to keep you connected and focused. We’re finding that that’s at the core of ending homelessness, too.”
On July 25th, a Congressional Reception will be held at the Dirksen Senate Auditorium in Washington D.C. This event will allow New Jersey Residents who are working poor, below the poverty line and or impacted by homelessness to urge their elected officials in Washington to make No Cuts to Housing and remind them that Opportunity Starts at Home.