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The Street-Level Solution

  |  December 24, 2010

When I was growing up, one of my father’s favorite sayings (borrowed from the humorist Will Rogers) was: “It isn’t what we don’t know that causes the trouble; it’s what we think we know that just ain’t so.” One of the main insights to be taken from the 100,000 Homes campaign and its strategy to end chronic homelessness, which I wrote about in Tuesdays’ column, is that, until recently, our society thought it understood the nature of homelessness, but it didn’t.

That led to a cascade of mistaken assumptions about why people become homeless and what they need. Many of the errors in our homelessness policies have stemmed from the conception that the homeless are a homogeneous group. It’s only in the past 15 years that organizations like Common Ground, and others, have taken a more granular, street-level view of the problem — disaggregating the “episodically homeless” from the “chronically homeless” in order to understand their needs at an individual level. This is why we can now envision a different approach — and get better results.