At Quicken Loans, our number one priority is helping people get into homes. As an organization that believes in doing well by doing good, it’s time we leverage that expertise to help solve a serious issue: veteran homelessness.
We’re partnering with Community Solutions, a national leader in ending both veteran and chronic homelessness, on their Built for Zero initiative. Built for Zero is a national change effort that is designed to help committed U.S. communities end chronic and veteran homelessness by developing real-time information on homelessness, optimizing housing resources, tracking progress and accelerating the spread of proven strategies.
We sat down with Rosanne Haggerty, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Community Solutions, to share more about what they do and our partnership.
Q: We love what Community Solutions is doing to end chronic homelessness. One thing that is really astounding is your research showing that it actually costs less to provide permanent supportive housing than to leave people on the street. Why is that?
Haggerty: It’s true. There have been so many studies done at this point, and you’re right, we’ve even commissioned our own research. The cost of doing nothing is consistently higher than the cost of solving the problem— sometimes by as much as 60%!
The reason is simple— homelessness exacerbates chronic health problems, mental illness, and all kinds of other issues, which means people end up in very expensive places like hospital emergency departments. If you’ve ever been stuck in the hospital yourself, you know that the cost of a single night’s care is often more than a whole month’s rent. At some point, you start asking yourself as a taxpayer, wouldn’t it be better to spend this money on solutions?
Malcolm Gladwell drew attention to this with a jaw-dropping article in the New Yorker called “Million Dollar Murray,” about a man whose homelessness had cost public institutions over a million dollars over about a decade. By contrast, the cost of an apartment connected to some simple services to help a person stabilize is more like $10,000-$20,000 a year, depending on the region. That model is far cheaper, and it helps the vast majority of people stay permanently housed. It’s a much better outcome for everyone because it solves the real problem at a reasonable cost.
Q: If it costs sometimes 40% less to place people in permanent supportive housing, why isn’t it happening? What are the hurdles?
Haggerty: It’s certainly true that in some communities, more housing is needed. But, if you can believe it, a lot of people aren’t getting off the streets simply because we don’t know who they are, and even when we do, we’ve made the process nearly impossible for them to navigate.
I remember one community we worked with. We brought everyone in the community who touched any piece of this puzzle around the same table and we asked them to map it out for us. There was someone from the local VA hospital, a housing authority leader, a street outreach worker, a person who had actually experienced homelessness and had to navigate the housing process – you name it, we invited them.
Well, it took them about three hours just to map out the existing process for one person to access the help and services they needed, and by the end, it looked like chutes and ladders. There were more than 80 steps, and on average, they estimated the process was taking about 300 days to navigate. You look at a process like that and you think, “No wonder people are stuck on the streets.”
Q: How does Community Solutions overcome these hurdles?
Haggerty: Well, here’s the amazing thing about that particular example— once we got the folks in that room working together and coordinating, it turned out they knew exactly how to fix things. They made common sense-changes, like combining their various forms into a single online application and moving someone from the VA into a spare office at the housing authority.
They also cut a lot of red tape and dropped some dated program requirements that only served to slow people down. Within a few months, the entire housing process was taking about half the time.
So, that’s emblematic of our methodology. It’s really about helping local teams understand the problem better and them giving them the tools to tap into their innate problem-solving abilities together.
Today, as a first step, we help teams develop the ability to know everyone who needs help across their entire community by name and in close to real time. It takes a lot of work to build a system that can do that, but more than 60 communities have that kind of data quality now. It opens up huge possibilities. Once you know everyone by name, you can ask them what they need, and you can use what you learn to get them connected to a home.
Sometimes there’s a federal program that can help someone out, or maybe they’ve earned veterans benefits, but because no one knew where they were, they haven’t been getting them. Once teams have the right information, they can start working together differently to make the process as quick and painless as possible. We’ve seen communities improve the number of people they’re housing in a given month by as much as 300%.
Q: That’s amazing! Can you tell us more about your Built for Zero initiative and why it’s so important?
Haggerty: Built for Zero is a national network of communities working toward a shared goal: an end to chronic and veteran homelessness. At Community Solutions, we coordinate the design and activation of that network by providing hands-on coaching and intensive data support, but it’s really these community teams that are doing the amazing work of housing people every day. And crucially, they all agree to that shared aim, which is to end homelessness, not just manage it indefinitely.
Right now, 60 U.S. communities are actively participating, and so far, nine of them have ended either chronic or veteran homelessness. As of this week, two communities have ended homelessness for both groups. Since 2015, participating teams have found permanent homes for more than 92,595 Americans, including more than 50,000 veterans.
Our goal is to foster so many different proof points that no one could say it was impossible any longer.
Q: What propelled you to launch the Built for Zero initiative.
Haggerty: You know, it’s funny. We worked on a prior initiative called the 100,000 Homes Campaign for about four years before we started Built for Zero. The goal there was to help communities count up to a big national housing total— 100,000 chronically homeless Americans housed. And we did it!
Participating communities actually exceeded that goal. But at the end of that effort, homelessness itself hadn’t actually declined by very much, and no community had gotten all the way to zero. A lot of people would have given up, but we decided to evolve our approach. We realized that to get to zero, communities would have to do more than get better at housing people. They’d also have to figure out how to reduce new inflow into homelessness, and they would need much better data and tools to drive reductions over time.
Three years later, the first nine communities are at zero. It feels so clear now that we’re on the right track, but the key has been to stay open to new learning along the way.
Q: What has been the most rewarding thing you’ve experienced working on this initiative?
Haggerty: The local leaders we work with are incredible. It really does feel like a movement. It’s been a joy to see so many people have their creativity unleashed as they find their tribe. A lot of the folks on these local teams had believed for a long time that we could do better as a country, but many of them thought they were alone.
It took the creation of this national network to connect them to one another. Once a person realizes they’re not the only one who thinks the way they do, you see this incredible growth in leadership. Some of the most impressive people I know are local leaders who have stepped up to spearhead this work in their communities.
Q: How can readers get involved with Community Solutions and the Built for Zero campaign?
Haggerty: The first thing is to find out if you live in a Built for Zero community. There’s a map on our website, so it’s easy to know.
If your community is already participating, call the contact person listed and ask what you can do to help. You can give money or time to the local organizations doing the work, or in many cases you can provide gently used furniture or home goods to help furnish apartments for people moving off the streets.
If you’re not in a Built for Zero community, call your mayor or county executive’s office and say you want to see your city or county join. Any community can get involved if they’re willing to build the right team and work with us.
We’re proud to be partnering with such a great organization and are committed to ending veteran homelessness. To learn more about our initiative, visit quickenloans.org/. To learn more about Built for Zero or get involved, visit JoinBuiltForZero.org.
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