Journalists play a critical role in helping the public understand the state of homelessness — and whether a community is making progress in equitably and measurably solving it.
Journalists are tasked with the challenge of covering homelessness, an urgent, complex problem. Their reporting is critical to a region’s ability to understand the problem, the solutions, and whether a community is making progress in solving it. To support these efforts, we are sharing resources developed in partnership with Solutions Journalism Network to help journalists cover the issue.
Actions to take
1. Clarify the full systems and actors who have a role to play in ending homelessness.
Often, many different agencies work on the issue of homelessness. These entities usually don’t report to each other and have different funders or regulatory requirements. This can create a fragmented system of homelessness response that makes it difficult to know who is responsible for ending homelessness and who to hold accountable.
Questions to explore to understand the homeless response system:
- Who are the actors (agencies, non profits, grassroots) working on ending homelessness?
- Are they working together? If not, why not? If yes, how are they working together?
- Are they all committed to the same goal?
2. Report on whether the community has a goal for ending homelessness.
Journalists should explore whether their community has established a measurable goal for reducing and ending homelessness.
Nearly every community has a public plan to end homelessness. But many of these strategies define success based on investments or technical interventions, rather than whether the number of people experiencing homelessness is going down.
Communities across the country, including those in Built for Zero, have set aims of reaching functional zero. Functional zero measures in real time whether a community has made homelessness rare and brief for a population, and tracks whether the community is sustaining this outcome over time.
Questions to explore to determine if a community has a goal for ending homelessness:
- Have key actors in the community committed to ending homelessness?
- If so, how are they defining it? Is it a measurable goal based on reductions or programmatic outcomes?
- Who is responsible for setting the goal(s) and measuring success?
3. Investigate whether the community is making progress, and if it has the data to know.
Journalists should explore how a community is measuring progress on reducing and ending homelessness.
Every year, journalists often report on the Point-in-Time count, but it’s important to understand what the PIT can and cannot tell about homelessness in a community and what additional data is needed to tell a fuller, more dynamic story of homelessness.
Many communities rely on the Point-in-Time count for their data; however, the PIT is an unreliable, aggregate, once-a-year snapshot into who is experiencing homelessness. It often misses large segments of the homeless population and does not reflect the dynamic way that homelessness data changes from day-to-day.
Many communities are moving toward real-time, by-name data. A by-name list is a real-time, person-specific list of everyone experiencing homelessness that provides communities with a full and real-time view of homelessness in their geography. Using this data, communities are able to triage individual cases, understand the broader patterns of homelessness in their area, and ensure that resources and efforts are driving down the overall number of people experiencing homelessness.
For transparency and accountability, some communities have a public dashboard showing their progress toward functional zero using real-time, by-name data. Here’s an example of a public dashboard from Charlotte-Mecklenburg County.
Questions to explore to determine how a community measures progress on ending homelessness:
- How is the community measuring success toward its goal?
- Is it making progress? How would we know?
- Is the community relying on the PIT count?
- Does the community know how many people are experiencing homelessness at any given time? If not, why?
- Can it disaggregate data by race and ethnicity to track and respond to disparities?
- How has that number changed? Is it going up or down?
- How are they transparently sharing this progress data with the community? Example: do you have a public dashboard on their website?
Using functional zero to measure ending homelessness
- Fast Company: 3 cities in the U.S. have ended chronic homelessness: Here’s how they did it
- Functional Zero Definitions
Using by-name data to measure progress toward ending homelessness
- The San Diego Union-Tribune: To end homelessness, we need a real-time database of all people experiencing homelessness
- The Christian Science Monitor: How a better headcount reduces homelessness in the US
- Blog: What is a by-name list?
Guidance on covering the PIT count
Homelessness as a systems problem
- Governing: Building a lasting solution to the nation’s homelessness crisis
- National League of Cities: How Communities are Building Systems to Reduce and End Homelessness
- Blog: Why is homelessness a systems problem?
Racial equity in homelessness
Our team is available to speak to media on a variety of topics concerning homelessness and what successful communities are doing to end it.
If you are a member of the media, please email Lauren Barnes.
Homelessness is solvable.
Communities in the Built for Zero movement are proving it.