Research & Evaluation | ,

Creating accountability for ending homelessness

We are pursuing systems-level change at the federal, state, regional, and municipal level to create the conditions for any community in the United States to create a lasting end to homelessness.
March 28, 2023

Our Aim

By 2026, targeted states and cities will have a formal role as active participants in ending and preventing homelessness, and federal grants and contracts will define success as reducing the number of people experiencing homelessness. Importantly, others will hold political leaders accountable for reducing and ending homelessness, too. The media and public narrative will reinforce the idea that homelessness is a solvable, systems issue. Proof that homelessness is solvable will be widely documented, seeding a new understanding of what is possible, everywhere. As a result, the public will expect reductions and hold leaders accountable for ending homelessness.

Our Approach

We are pursuing systems-level change at the federal, state, regional, and municipal level to create the conditions for any community in the United States to create a lasting end to homelessness. At the federal level, Community Solutions is working to align homelessness funding toward requiring population-level reduction goals, collective accountability for results, quality data, and shared progress measures and definitions. We are also working with targeted cities and states to formalize their role in the homeless response system, and to establish clear, shared homelessness reduction goals. In doing so, we are creating and proving out templates for how federal, state, and municipal government can align their efforts to reduce, prevent, and end homelessness.

Achieving and sustaining a reality where homelessness is rare and brief requires broad understanding of the solutions and accountability for implementing them. The myth that homelessness is an intractable problem has prolonged human suffering and perpetuated the status quo for far too long. We need a new story — that homelessness is a solvable, systems issue — that raises our collective expectations of what can and must be done. Community Solutions is driving campaigns to establish a new level of public and media accountability for ending homelessness. We measure success by tracking the national discourse around homelessness and our effectiveness in supporting shifts in conversation and behavior among key audiences. As part of that work, we are highlighting roles that different groups can play in ending homelessness in their community.

Targeted Communications

As we support communities in Built for Zero, we continue to surface the roles that specific groups can play in reducing homelessness in their communities. Our communications team develops targeted messaging for these groups and assists communities in tailoring communications to their context. In 2022, we focused on:

Challenges and Learning

States and municipalities often lack a defined role within the existing homeless response system. The majority of funding that supports homeless services is granted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to local Continuums of Care. This funding goes directly from the federal government to local homeless service organizations to provide assistance to people experiencing homelessness. Due to the nature of this process, states and cities are left out of the fund allocation formula and have no direct programmatic oversight authority. Moreover, some Continuums of Care do not conform to county boundaries, making regional strategies necessary.

Through our work, we have seen that state policymakers, legislators, and agency staffers are eager to learn what works to reduce homelessness but have little insight into ways states can leverage their resources and capacity to play a formal role in ending and preventing homelessness within their boundaries. This gap results in unrealized opportunities to influence land-use policy, health care funding (specifically Medicaid), criminal justice policy, and affordable housing finance.

Recognizing this opportunity, Community Solutions is compiling best practices and testing new models of state leadership in ending homelessness. Working with state government partners in Colorado and Maine, we are identifying high-leverage practices and governance models that can be shared with other states.

We are testing five important roles states can play:

  1. Convene communities around a shared aim for measurably and equitably ending homelessness and build collective will.
  2. Resource and empower communities to build local, multi-agency homelessness reduction systems, rooted in shared, real-time, population-level data.
    1. Fund staff capacity at state and local levels to focus on system-level data and collaboration, continuous improvement, and performance management.
    2. Incentivize local communities to prioritize quality data collection as the expected standard.
    3. Align state funding with population-level outcomes in reducing homelessness. 
  3. Work collaboratively across state agencies to clear barriers in direct response to local, data-identified needs.
  4. Engage anchor institutions and partners from other sectors, particularly health care, to align behind shared aims.
  5. Embed improvement methodologies into state administrative practices to support scale and long-term sustainability of quality data and functional zero outcomes.

Community Solutions is also engaging a cohort of states and cities to incorporate the foundational elements of effective homeless response systems into administrative regulations and operational policies.

We are increasing the representation of homelessness as a solvable, systems problem in the social and earned media discourses around solutions to homelessness. But it is being outpaced by the broader conversation around homelessness. According to the media monitoring tool Meltwater, the volume of social media conversation about solving homelessness in the United States increased 420% in 2022 from the previous year, reflecting the broader attention to the issue. Conversations directly related to accountability for a measurable end state to homelessness (functional zero), homelessness as a systems problem, the role of by-name or quality data, the Built for Zero methodology, and the assertion that homelessness is solvable, increased significantly to match, in volume, about 16% of the solutions-oriented conversation. 

While this demonstrates important progress, we cannot ignore that the volume of conversation focused on the crisis of homelessness continues to vastly outpace the conversation around solutions to homelessness. To create a tipping point, we must continue to increase representation of these concepts within solutions-oriented conversations around homelessness, while increasing the overall volume of these conversations about homelessness.

How are we tracking the conversation around solving homelessness?

Using Meltwater, a media monitoring tool, we are tracking the overall discourse around solving and ending homelessness. We are also tracking the discourse that includes key components of solving homelessness, like “functional zero” and “by-name data.”

Read more from the 2022 Learning and Impact Report