Real-time data is at the heart of the Built for Zero methodology, which is helping communities measurably and equitably end homelessness.
Communities in Built for Zero are committed to measurably and equitably ending homelessness for entire populations. The communities work toward functional zero — an ongoing state where homelessness is continuously rare and brief.
One of the most important solutions to ending homelessness begins with a new way of seeing it.
Historically, communities have relied heavily on point-in-time counts, a count conducted on one night every year, to understand whether the problem of homelessness is improving. They’ve used this number to develop local strategies and make budget decisions.
But the count is just that — an estimate from a moment in time. There are no names behind it. No way to know what that number is today. No way to know how that number has changed over time.
Homelessness is a problem that changes every night. To keep up with it, we need a clear video, not a blurry snapshot.
WHAT IS BY-NAME DATA?
Communities are making progress by embracing by-name data: a comprehensive profile of every person in a community experiencing homelessness, updated in real time, so no one is left behind.
- All agencies and programs share data in a single place, which includes people in temporary accommodations and people on the streets.
- Using information collected and shared with their consent, each person has a file that includes their name, homeless history, health, and housing needs.
- This data is updated monthly, at minimum.
At a population level, this data tracks the dynamics of homelessness. This includes:
Inflow: the people new to experiencing homelessness
When a person loses housing and enters into homelessness, they’re part of what we call inflow. Inflow data points are:
- Newly identified: People new to homelessness
- Returned from housing: People who experienced homelessness before, got connected with housing, and now are homeless again
- Returned from Inactive: People who experienced homelessness before and exited to unknown destinations (left town, were institutionalized for 90+ days etc), and now are homeless again
Actively homeless: the people currently experiencing homelessness
People who are currently homeless are categorized as:
- Actively homeless (in contrast to folks whose current status is Housed or Inactive)
Outflow: the people who exited homelessness
Outflow data points are:
- Housing placements: People who are connected to permanent housing
- Moved to inactive: People who exit out of homelessness without support from the homeless response system, such as finding their own housing, moving out of the community, or entering a long-term stay in an institution
HOW IS BY-NAME DATA CHANGING HOW COMMUNITIES WORK?
A shared understanding of every person experiencing homelessness in real time, by name changes everything. Leaders from across the community come together around this list, working together to connect people to the support they need. People move from being a single organization’s client to the entire community’s client.
Understanding homelessness in terms of population-level dynamics is critical to knowing how and where to improve systems.
How many people became homeless for the first time this month? How many were people returning to homelessness? How many people exited from homelessness? Are the experiences of people moving through the system equitable?
Without this information, communities can get stuck in a cycle of solving yesterday’s problem, without knowing if they are moving any closer to the goal. Equipped with this data, communities can understand where to direct their attention and implement strategies that are as dynamic as the problem.
Communities are demonstrating that a commitment to data is more than a commitment to numbers. It is about being accountable to the entire population of people experiencing homelessness, and to getting to zero.
Solving homelessness begins by fully seeing the dynamic problem of homelessness, as it is, at any given moment, for all the people impacted by it — and using that information to end it for good.