Case Studies | , ,

Sub-Regionalizing with Built for Zero

Learn how the vast region of Metro Denver has been operationalizing the Built for Zero methodology to functionally end veteran homelessness.
August 9, 2021

Many large communities with a high number of people experiencing homelessness across vast regions face challenges in achieving quality data and establishing coordinated systems that can drive measurable reductions in homelessness. 

One specific community — Metro Denver — demonstrated the effectiveness and efficiency of Built for Zero’s strategy through a sub-regional approach. Built for Zero is a movement of more than 80 cities and counties proving it is possible to measurably end homelessness, one population at a time. It is also a proven data-driven methodology that has changed how local systems work and the impact they can achieve. 

In 2020, Metro Denver partners were able to achieve a 22% reduction in veteran homelessness. That marked the largest reduction Metro Denver has seen since joining Built for Zero in 2015 and totaled 514 veterans housed in the calendar year. Much of this reduction was driven as part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This partnership continues to help participants discover the most valuable support that Built for Zero can provide large communities like Metro Denver and what features of a system are capable of driving reductions across such a broad geography. 

Operating across Denver’s diverse, expansive geography

Metro Denver has a large seven-county geography with a total population of 3.2 million across 40 municipalities. The community is committed to reaching functional zero for veteran homelessness as an initial step toward ending homelessness for all populations. Built for Zero communities work to create a coordinated, data-driven system that can sustainably and equitably drive population-level reductions in homelessness.

Due to the complexity and diversity of the communities across a geographically expansive Continuum of Care, the community struggled to achieve data quality, understand what was happening across the vast geography, and subsequently coordinate efforts to drive reductions in veteran homelessness at the local level. The team found that key elements of a homeless response system — for example, outreach, HMIS coverage, access to resources — significantly vary from county to county. Relying solely on a regional approach also meant that key elements of local context failed to be taken into account in developing and implementing a strategy.

Considering local context

To address a problem that felt too complex to tackle as a whole, Built for Zero partnered with the local VA and Metro Denver Homeless Initiative (MDHI) — the Continuum of Care — to coordinate and design a sub-regionalized effort to end veteran homelessness. With MDHI serving as an umbrella organization, each sub-region will each be staffed with leads responsible for achieving quality data and driving measurable reductions in their respective communities. VA coordinated entry staff are also represented within each sub-region.

This approach allows the region to implement strategies that take into consideration local context while coordinating a shared framework for implementation that also provides accountability for key features of the system like quality data.

Through these efforts, the community is focused on:

  • Building a regionalized and racially equitable coordinated entry system
  • Building both the local and regional momentum towards functional zero for veteran homelessness 
  • Achieving quality by-name data

Local leaders noted the importance of recognizing that sub-regions were not asked to start from scratch, but that Built for Zero was often received as a helpful organizing framework that guided how to improve and accelerate the impact of existing efforts.

“I’ve worked in this community for eight years, and this is the most buy-in I have seen from a broad base of supporters.”

ian Fletcher

Through Built for Zero, the Metro Denver team has also appointed a dedicated System Transformation Advisor, Ian Fletcher, who supports their community efforts. “I’ve worked in this community for eight years, and this is the most buy-in I have seen from a broad base of supporters,” said Fletcher. “This has included electeds, new providers, and local leaders outside of our traditional partners towards ending veteran homelessness.”

Furthermore, through a partnership with Kaiser Permanente and Community Solutions, MDHI was able to secure funding for an Improvement Advisor to embed quality improvement science as a foundational capacity within MDHI. 

Dedicated staff

Together, MDHI and Built for Zero are working to establish local Improvement teams in each of the nine subregions to collectively work toward reducing veteran homelessness. These local teams, which include an improvement and data lead, will focus on person-centered systems change, case conferencing, and achieving quality data. This data will be reported up to MDHI, enabling quality, real-time understanding of homelessness across the region at both an aggregate and disaggregated level. Currently, all 423 veterans on the regional by-name list are also associated with a particular sub-region’s local by-name list.

To date, five of the nine subregions have established an initial baseline for their data scorecard for all singles, and six of nine have established a leadership infrastructure. Those leaders’ responsibilities include:

  1. Building and managing local leadership and quality improvement science capability
  2. Managing the process to reach quality data for all single adults
  3. Managing and measuring system improvement efforts, including work to assure each locally-led homeless response system meets the BFZ racial equity measurement framework
  4. Project managing transformational change projects and partner investments.
  5. Engaging local elected officials and policy makers to “clear the path” to ensure funding and policy shifts are in place needed to reach functional zero. 

As quality data is established across the subregions, MDHI will be equipped with the data and understanding needed to support efforts both at scale across the region and within the local subregions. MDHI is also working with key convening organizations to coordinate and organize elected officials to support these efforts.