Getting to Zero: Solving Homelessness

5 Key
Takeaways

A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation

1. Getting to Zero is not an aspiration but rather a method that has evolved over time

Rosanne Haggerty, President and Chief Executive Officer of Community Solutions started the lecture with a quote by W. Edwards Deming: “Every system is perfectly designed to achieve exactly the results it gets.” The recognition that homelessness is an urgent and solvable public health and racial equity challenge—rather than a technical problem (not enough housing units or program resources) was key in the evolution of their approach in getting to zero. Community Solutions determined that the whole community needed to be studied in order to measure what was happening and understand the existing systemic barriers in place and what the community’s needs were. There are five things every community needs:

  • A shared, measurable aim, which is the most critical thing for a community to see progress because they are committed to solving the same problem and holding each other accountable and measuring progress in the same way.
  • A nimble, integrated team of key agencies that are working on the issues
  • A real-time, by-name feedback loop
  • A flexible arsenal of resources
  • A testable menu of technical strategies

2. Solving homelessness is a data-driven process

Solving homelessness is a data driven practice that shows the comprehensive nature of the problem, accounts for everyone across the geography and requires you to test your way forward. There are key data points to track:

  • Inflow
    • Newly identified
    • Retuned from housing
    • Returned from inactive
  • Actively homeless outflow
    • Housing placements
    • Moved to inactive

This dynamic system allows communities to understand what is happening at the individual, program, and population-level, and make decisions about where resources need to be shifted or where policies need to be changed.  For example, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the community is at functional zero for veterans and very close for chronic homelessness but saw a sudden increase in the homeless population. Once they dug into the data, they discovered that the problem could be traced back to one landlord. They were able to provide support for the landlord and got the numbers back down within a month. Without this real time data, we would have seen this increase a year later and would have made different assumptions about what had led to the increase in homelessness, and either over- or under-responded as a result.

3. The lived-experienced voice is the most important aspect

It is essential to include community members who are experiencing homelessness, hear their lived experiences and utilize their insight into what is and isn’t working in the current system. We should ask questions about the issues they are dealing with, who are they, where they have come from and how can we help them not only on the front end, but all the way through the process. People impacted by the decisions made need to be at the table to provide insight into how the services are serving them. It is everyone’s responsibility to make sure people have the supports they need to ensure that they are stable in the housing of their choosing. This process boils down to honouring people’s journey into homelessness and assisting them with their journey out of homelessness.

4. We need to build authentic relationships by strengthening Indigeneity

To effectively eliminate homelessness, the approach you take must be culturally specific and grounded in the values of the population you are focused on. In Victoria, the Indigenous population is only around 5%, however they make up approximately 33% of the people that are unhoused. A major milestone is Coordinated Access and Assessment (CAA), which committed 33% of all new supportive housing units to Indigenous Peoples. Fran Hunt-Jinnouchi, Director of Housing Development and Research at the Aboriginal Coalition to End Homelessness Society said, “we can’t continue to try to fit our circle into your square”. When asked what home was to them, it was rarely a house, typically it was their ancestral community; highlighting the critical importance of creating bridges into community.

5. Homelessness is a symptom of a broader problem

The reality of homelessness is that it is an upstream issue that needs to be addressed. Mayor Dan Carter highlighted the importance of not just thinking about the number of housing units that could be built, but rather the importance of getting to the root of the issue which is about inequity, poverty, addiction, and mental health. Jamie Rogers said “homelessness wouldn’t be an issue if the existing systems worked.” Agrees Rosanne Haggerty, “in some ways homelessness isn’t the problem, it’s the symptom of that problem, which is that our safety net is broken, and there’s this lack of accountability for what happens to vulnerable people in crisis.”