When I find myself in need of hope, I think about Rockford, Illinois.
Organizations across the city and county meet monthly to improve their system for connecting their homeless neighbors to housing, person by person. In that meeting, they have a rule: no one is allowed to attribute homelessness to a personal characteristic.
“We learned very early on that blaming the person for whatever is going on isn’t going to get us anywhere,” said Angie Walker, one of the community’s leaders. “There are people all over this country struggling with various circumstances — and those people are housed. We needed to look at how our system was stopping them from accessing housing.”
For Angie’s team, reexamining the way Rockford responds to homelessness has been personal. It has meant reexamining their life’s work. “It’s hard to take a look at your work and see that you’re failing,” she said. “But you can’t keep doing the same thing if it’s not working.”
“We learned very early on that blaming the person for whatever is going on isn’t going to get us anywhere.”Angie Walker, a community leader in rockford
The community was one of the first to join Built for Zero, the Community Solutions-led moonshot of more than 100 communities proving homelessness is solvable. Rockford fundamentally changed how they approach the problem — and the levels of homelessness in their community.
Rockford, like other Built for Zero communities, created a community-wide team to treat homelessness like a public health emergency. They know everyone experiencing homelessness by name, in real time, and work together to drive that number toward zero. Rockford reached functional zero — a standard for homelessness being measurably rare and brief — for veterans in December 2015 and for people experiencing long-lasting, or chronic, homelessness in January 2017. They have sustained these achievements while working to solve homelessness for other populations, like youth and families.
Now, Rockford is on course to become the first community in the United States to make homelessness rare and brief for everyone in their community.
When they do reach functional zero homelessness for all, it will reflect a community that refused to accept the status quo. Our ability to partner with Rockford and more than 100 other communities is made possible by supporters like you.
This holiday season, we hope you will enable us to spread this game-changing, profoundly hopeful work that is proving homelessness is solvable.