Permanent Homes for 100,000 Homeless Americans

March 22, 2011
By Rosanne Haggerty

In the wake of last week's terrible disaster in Japan, we are reminded of how fragile our communities can be. The images of tens of thousands of Japanese uprooted from their homes and crowded into emergency shelters convey in ways words and numbers cannot the impact of being suddenly without a home -- an event always preceded by some trauma.

The new Huffington Post Media Group at AOL is focusing on social engagement and organizations that help us "give back." While we may feel helpless to assist those who have lost their homes in Japan, we can recognize a powerful new effort underway in the United States to make dramatic reductions in homelessness. Last July, Common Ground, along with its many national partners, launched the 100,000 Homes Campaign to enlist volunteers in communities across the country to house 100,000 of America's most vulnerable homeless people by July of 2013. So far, that plan has brought together 75 communities and resulted in more than 7,600 long-term homeless people moving back into stable homes.

Here's how it works:

First, each Campaign community brings together the full range of stakeholders needed to connect isolated people with homes and the help they need: housing authorities, health departments, not-for-profits, churches, the police, hospitals, landlord groups and even downtown business organizations. Communities then mobilize volunteers to find and interview as many of those experiencing homelessness as possible to create a comprehensive "registry" of those in the most urgent need of housing. Volunteers use a survey tool called the Vulnerability Index, developed with the help of medical and public health researchers who studied the causes of death among the homeless on Boston streets. Most homeless individuals are very willing to take the survey, which asks for information about a person's health history and current living situation. Local organizers then use that information to identify their most vulnerable homeless neighbors and help them move off the streets before it's too late.