The Challenge

Homelessness is a problem that’s more costly to ignore than to solve.

Homelessness is a complex, life-threatening problem. It can be solved — but only if systems are designed to continually reduce and end it.  

Homelessness is a mirror. It reflects our nation’s living history of racism. / Created by the National Racial Equity Working Group/ Design by Eido

By every meaningful measure, homelessness is a problem that proves to be more costly to ignore than to solve. An estimated 500,000 people are experiencing homelessness on any given night. Homelessness is among the most visible and harmful manifestations of racism in our society, disproportionately impacting Black and Native Americans. For our most vulnerable neighbors, homelessness is a matter of life and death. People experiencing homelessness die 17 years earlier than those who are housed. 

People who suffer from long-term homelessness are also more likely to be ensnared within the criminal justice system and use emergency health services, which can add up to an average of $35,000 a year. 

Communities are proving it does not have to be this way.

Homelessness is a result of vulnerable populations colliding with broken systems. Cities and counties are demonstrating that these systems can be fixed, and homelessness can be solved.

Communities across the country have achieved a milestone for ending homelessness known as functional zero — including the first county in the country to end chronic homelessness. By reaching this milestone, communities are building a future that ensures homelessness is a rare and brief experience, and never an enduring or recurring way of life.

It is important to remember that while homelessness disproportionately and deeply damages the health of our cities and its citizens, less than 1% of any city’s population is experiencing homelessness at any time.

These cities and counties have proven it’s possible to close the gap to zero — but only if they change the way they understand the problem, work, and target their resources. By harnessing data and collaboration, communities are proving it is possible to build systems that can reduce and continuously end homelessness.

Beth Sandor describes why solving complex social problems require systems designed to move as fast as the problem

We need action to realign systems and resources to end, rather than manage, homelessness.

In many cases, communities are set up to manage homelessness, but not to end it for everyone who is experiencing it. Communities are proving that they can only end homelessness if they have systems and investments are realigned around getting to zero.

This fundamental shift begins with five changes:

Who is at the table

Instead of operating in silos, everyone who touches the problem — providers, nonprofits, and agencies — needs to work together to get to zero.

How those leaders define success

Success must be defined by whether the overall number of people experiencing homelessness is going down, not by whether individual programs are succeeding.

How communities understand the problem

Solutions must be guided by real-time, person-specific data, not by annual, anonymized snapshots.

How resources are spent

Investments must be data-driven, targeted, and measurable in their impact.

And perhaps, most importantly, what we believe is possible

Homelessness must be treated as solvable, not as an intractable problem.

Homelessness Policy Recommendations

Four recommendations that would scale the impact of the progress we are seeing in communities

Our Approach 1

Homelessness is not too big or too complex to be solved.