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  • Eileen Zilch

Is there REALLY a way to end Homelessness?

Built for Zero. A national effort to help more than 70 committed U.S. communities end chronic and veteran homelessness. Their goal is to prove that success is possible, ultimately motivating all communities to end chronic and veteran homelessness. And they are making real progress.

  • Eight communities so far have ended veteran homelessness: Rockford, IL; Arlington, VA; Montgomery County, MD; Fort Myers, FL; Gulfport, MS; Riverside, CA; Norman, OK; and Bergen County, NJ

  • Three communities have ended chronic homelessness (2 of whom have also ended veteran homelessness): Bergen County, NJ; Rockford, IL; and Lancaster, PA

Started in 2015 by the non-profit, Community Solutions, Built for Zero uses a “campaign-style strategy and a lean movement team”. Their “secret sauce” was getting to the understanding that no community can end homelessness of any kind without comprehensive, real-time, person-specific data on the problem. This emerged as a gospel tenet of their work.

Homelessness is a dynamic, person-specific problem that changes from night to night and from person to person. Real-time data and a rapid feedback loop on who and how many people are experiencing homelessness in a community at any given time is the most vital information that local leaders could possess. In 2015, no community in the country had the ability to produce this level of data. Thanks to the research, analysis, and development of tools by Community Solutions, today 59 U.S. communities are doing just that.

By utilizing real-time, person-specific data combined with the “housing first” strategy, 70 plus U.S. communities are working toward ending homelessness. Housing first is a highly effective approach to ending homelessness that emphasizes providing people experiencing homelessness with permanent housing right away and then offering other services as needed. The vast majority of housing first tenants (85% on average) do not return to homelessness, remaining stably housed at rates that often exceed those of their counterparts in traditional “treatment first” programs. Stable housing puts people in a better position to benefit voluntarily from needed services over time. Housing first was instituted as a federal policy under the George W. Bush Administration.

Housing first saves taxpayers money. A 2014 study found the cost of homelessness in Central Florida to be $31,065 per year – primarily from inpatient hospitalizations, emergency room fees, and criminal justice fees. In contrast, the study found that providing permanent housing for these chronically homeless individuals cost just $10,051 per person/year – one third of the cost of leaving those individuals on the streets. Other studies in Seattle, Denver and Rhode Island have shown similar savings by housing chronically homeless individuals.

There are 56 Continuum of Care (CoC) “regions” in the State of Michigan, and to date 4 have committed to the Built for Zero program. The CoC’s in Michigan who are part of the 70 communities nationwide committed to ending chronic and veteran homelessness are: Ann Arbor/Washtenaw County, Detroit, Flint/Genesee County, and Pontiac/Royal Oak/Oakland County. The Built for Zero communities across the country are proving that success in ending homelessness is within reach.

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