Homelessness is often seen as an uncontrollable problem because of its complexities and expenses, but a national program is proving that’s not the case. Built for Zero is the program that has allowed the city of Abilene, Texas, to end local veteran homelessness in late February. With the same program, Abilene has its sights set on ending chronic homelessness as well.
“By ending homelessness, we mean getting to a place where it’s rare, brief, and it gets solved correctly and quickly when it does happen,” president of the nonprofit that spearheads the Built for Zero program Rosanne Haggerty said. “That’s a completely achievable end state, we now see.” The nonprofit, Community Solutions, labels this goal "functional zero" and announced last Monday that it is working in 50 different communities.
The program emphasizes the importance of using data to identify people experiencing homelessness in real time. In Abilene, a city of about 120,000 people, officials located and learned about each homeless veteran. Information was then stored in a list that was continuously updated. Local government collaborated with organizations to find housing for the homeless, whether through public housing or working with landlords.
Bergen County, New Jersey, was the first in the U.S. to end chronic homelessness, which it did in 2017. With a population of almost one million people, the county created a "command center" where different organizations used individual-level data to help every homeless person find housing. The county committed to a "housing first" approach and expedited the process to help the chronically homeless receive housing in addition to employment and healthcare assistance.