Homelessness is a complex problem. We know that to solve it, communities need real-time, person-specific data and a flexible ways of problem solving designed to tackle evolving problems. But in our recent Built for Zero Learning Sessions communities told us that they need even more of something else to get across the finish line: each other.
We answered by designing a Learning Session focused on strengthening the ties among the more than 70 communities who belong to the Built for Zero movement. Over the course of the two-day work session, we provided even more opportunities to learn from one other. The March Learning Session also celebrated additional proof that homelessness is solvable: just two months earlier, Abilene, Texas became the 10th community to end veteran homelessness, and teams from 39 other communities shared how they have achieved month over month reductions in people experiencing homelessness.
More than 400 people from 60+ communities and our partner organizations gathered in Atlanta. Community teams worked alongside peers and federal partners to compare approaches to building political will, develop new ideas, and map out strategies for the upcoming quarters. Built for Zero’s strategic partners gathered to discuss how they could work together to clear the path for communities.
A group of communities — including Charlotte, Denver, Detroit, Jacksonville, Phoenix, St. Louis, and Washington D.C. — gathered to learn about a new Built for Zero team dedicated to driving progress in large cities. Each community discussed their specific targets and how the team could support their efforts. “For a long time, you all have shared the unique challenges that you face as large cities working to end veteran homelessness,” said K.O. Campbell, Built For Zero's Large City Strategy Lead. “We have heard you, we have redesigned how we will support you, and we are excited to dive deeper into these complexities with you.”
Communities that have reached key milestones on their journey to zero shared their stories. “We had to go from ‘us versus them’ to ‘us,’” said Brenda O’Connell, one of the leaders in Lake County, Illinois, a community that has made dramatic reductions in veteran homelessness. Her team shared the critical importance of Learning Sessions in introducing a new mindset of shared accountability for ending homelessness. “It really does make you start to think more broadly,” her colleague Jenny King said. “Working with other people here translated into working with other people when we got home.”
At Community Solutions, we have seen over and over what happens when communities begin to work differently. Ten communities have ended veteran homelessness. Three communities have ended chronic homelessness. More than half of all Built for Zero communities have made significant reductions in the number of people experiencing homelessness.
During the first day of the Learning Session, Built for Zero’s Garen Nigon encouraged participants to “be curious, be generous, and find your people.” The Learning Session served as a powerful reminder that homelessness is solvable, and that the path to zero is growing clearer. With more of “our people” joining the movement, one finish line after another is in view.
Built for Zero welcomed its newest members: Anchorage, Alaska; Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Jackson, Mississippi.
Participants were encouraged to find two to three allies from other communities who could help break through barriers and brainstorm answers to their most burning questions.
"Being part of that world helps me communicate. I can reach some people that others can’t reach,” said Maurice Lattimore, who shared how his own experience of living without a home informs his work as an Outreach Peer Specialist at Intown Collaborative Ministries in Atlanta.
Ten new communities were celebrated for achieving quality by-name lists, a critical step in ending homelessness.
Eighteen communities were celebrated for achieving “shifts” since the last Learning Session. A shift occurs when the number of people experiencing homelessness trends below the existing median for six months in a row, indicating that there has been a meaningful population-level shift toward Functional Zero.
Communities that have reached key milestones in their journey to Functional Zero crossed a finish line together.
“We’re committed to helping you, veteran by veteran, community by community, so that finish line we saw yesterday? We all cross it together,” said Shawn Liu of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“Homelessness doesn’t take a break. We know that you guys are out there in the trenches doing the hard work and we really want to support you,” said Karen Deblasio of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Joe Savage of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness applauded the work being done by Built for Zero communities. “Your work is being heard,” he said. “And it’s keeping homelessness on the agenda.”
Community Solutions’ Ashlee Brown (shown above) and Leslie Wise explained why race equity is essential to any strategy for ending homelessness. By February 2020, Built for Zero will be ready to operationalize a racial equity strategy to build and improve more equitable homeless response systems.
To view more photos, go to our Facebook album.
Thank you to our partners
A huge thank you to the continued support and investment of our partners, including those below who were able to join us in Atlanta:
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness
Built for Zero Partners
A Way Home America, Center for Social Innovation, Institute for Healthcare Improvement, Built for Zero Canada, A Way Home Washington
Home Depot Foundation, Ballmer Group, Tableau Foundation, Kaiser Permanente