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Do Built for Zero communities only focus on veteran or chronic homelessness?

Communities begin by focusing on veteran or chronic homelessness as initial steps on their journey to ending homelessness for all.
April 6, 2021

To date, 14 communities in Built for Zero have reached functional zero for veteran or chronic homelessness.

People often misunderstand that communities in Built for Zero work exclusively on veteran or chronic homelessness. 

For communities in Built for Zero, ending veteran or chronic homelessness are just steps toward ending homelessness for all. 

Every community in Built for Zero is serving all populations of people experiencing homelessness at any time.

As part of Built for Zero, communities create a shared aim around ending homelessness for a particular population, in order to focus a community-wide effort to improve one particular system. We’ve found that when communities focus their systems transformation work on one population at a time, they can make more rapid progress toward systems that end homelessness for all.

In fact, Built for Zero currently has a cohort of 14 communities that are focused on ending family and youth homelessness, after reaching functional zero for veteran or chronic homelessness. As an organization, we aim to help five communities end homelessness for all populations by the end of 2024. 

So why do communities start with veteran or chronic homelessness?

Chronic homelessness

Chronic homelessness refers to long-lasting or recurring homelessness for a community’s most vulnerable neighbors. It is defined by the federal government as impacting people who live with a documented disability and have experienced verifiable homelessness for at least a year — or repeatedly over three years.

Focusing on ending chronic homelessness is starting with the hardest part of the problem to solve, and the population that may need those solutions most urgently.

People experiencing chronic homelessness represent the individuals who face the highest barriers to housing. Focusing on ending chronic homelessness is starting with the hardest part of the problem to solve, and the population that may need those solutions most urgently. On average, people who experience chronic homelessness have a life expectancy that is 17 years shorter than those who are housed.

Those experiencing chronic homelessness make up less than 20% of a community’s homeless population but use the majority of homeless services due to the compounding effects of long-term homelessness, disabilities, and deteriorating health.

We know that if a system is redesigned to work for those most failed by it, the system is likely to be improved for all. To date, five communities in Built for Zero have functionally ended chronic homelessness. 

Veteran homelessness

Veteran homelessness presents a different but also urgent challenge. There is an abundance of opportunity to end veteran homelessness in any geography, thanks to political will, strong public support, and resources from federal agencies like the VA. These resources include rental housing subsidies and case management services. Veteran homelessness is a great example of a systems coordination problem, where a problem still persists despite the availability of ample resources.

By creating data-driven, coordinated systems that can promptly identify and connect veterans with the support they need, 12 communities in Built for Zero have functionally ended veteran homelessness. Ending veteran homelessness also means a community has mastered systems coordination and data improvement for a diverse group of people with veteran status: single adults, families, the elderly, and those with disabilities.

Driving toward a tipping point

Homelessness is a big and complex problem — but it is not one too big or complex to be solved.

Community Solutions is dedicated to making ending homelessness a norm, rather than an exception, helping communities prove that homelessness is solvable everywhere. As part of this work, we are grateful for the Built for Zero communities on the leading edge of this movement. 

Together, they are generating the critical mass of proof, learning, and momentum that will bring this movement to a tipping point. 

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