Our Way to Ending Homelessness

Homelessness is often perceived as an intractable problem, but social entrepreneur and Ashoka Fellow Rosanne Haggerty shows that it can be solved. Through her organization, Community Solutions, over 100 U.S. cities and counties are collaborating to address homelessness with innovative tools and methods, drawing on the participation and active contribution of hundreds of different actors. In a conversation with Sascha Haselmayer, Rosanne shares insights into the success of these communities and what we can learn from their achievements. 

Rosanne Haggerty's journey began with volunteering at a shelter, where she realized that the existing system was not solving the core issues. Shelters provided temporary relief but did not address the long-term needs of those experiencing homelessness. This insight led her and her colleagues to shift their focus from merely providing temporary aid to creating systems that prevent and end homelessness. They recognized that the fundamental problem was the lack of a coordinated effort to ensure all assistance contributed to reducing homelessness in the community. This realization birthed the Built for Zero network, a coalition of communities dedicated to achieving "functional zero" homelessness. 

Functional zero homelessness means that homelessness is rare and short-lived. Communities at this level have a coordinated system in place that continuously works towards keeping homelessness minimal. The key to this approach is utilizing public health-quality data to create a comprehensive picture of homelessness in real time. This data allows local teams to identify effective practices, improve collaboration, and rapidly test new ideas. By focusing on whether their collective efforts reduce homelessness, these communities can make significant progress toward their shared goal. 

Community Solutions supports these communities by helping them form integrated teams that include not-for-profits, local government, housing authorities, and other critical stakeholders. They provide ongoing coaching in data analytics and quality improvement to enhance collaboration. Built for Zero serves as a robust peer network where communities share challenges and learn from each other's successes. 

Addressing housing shortages is another critical aspect of solving homelessness, but it's not as straightforward as it seems. Communities need to understand the dynamics of homelessness and gather better data to identify the real issues and barriers within their local policies. This detailed understanding helps them think of housing as a system that also includes the participation of relevant actors, like private landlords, government agencies, and regulations. Community Solutions' Housing Systems team helps align these elements to effectively reduce and end homelessness. 

Thanks to Rosanne and her team’s work, communities are increasingly rejecting the notion that homelessness is an endless problem. They are learning to solve it continuously, adapting to new challenges like natural disasters. This mature understanding of problem-solving emphasizes mutual commitments, shared accountability, and constant learning. The skills and methods developed through the Built for Zero movement are also helping communities tackle other complex issues, such as health equity, demonstrating the broader impact of this innovative approach.* 

Rosanne Haggerty will be attending the Changemaker Summit in Hamburg, on 5-7 September 2024. You can find the full video interview here.  


*This article has been written with the support of an AI assistant.