“You can’t solve a problem that you can’t measure.”

According to Built for Zero, an estimated 84,000 Americans are considered to be chronically homeless — that is, homeless for at least a year and suffering from mental health or disabling health conditions. In addition, an estimated 40,000 veterans are living homeless in the very country they fought to protect. 

These numbers are all at once staggering and unsurprising; homelessness has somehow lost its sense of urgency while maintaining high visibility. In fact, it almost seems like the more visible the homeless population is, the more invisible they become.

Built for Zero was created to make the invisible visible again using data, dedication, and community commitment. Led by Community Solutions, Built for Zero believes that homelessness is solvable, and they have the numbers to back up their beliefs.

As of the 2017 Civic Hacker Summit, Built for Zero had helped six communities of varying sizes completely end veteran homelessness. In two larger communities, the initiatives of Built for Zero eliminated chronic homelessness. Every single chronically homeless individual was housed and maintained housing for a year or longer. These sorts of results cannot be argued with; homelessness is solvable, and Built for Zero is proving that, one community at a time.

“Data has not always been part of the conversation locally. Things have really changed in the last several years, but sometimes you still have to push people in that direction to get people to see the importance of data.” 

Jessica Marcus experienced the life-changing efforts of Community Solutions as an intern with their 100,000 Homes Campaign, which helped roughly 200 communities house 100,000 chronically homeless people between 2010 and 2014. After her incredible experience within that effort, she jumped at the opportunity to work with Built for Zero as their first data person on the entire team. 

Now working as Deputy Director of Data and Performance Management, she oversees the growing data team, which has now become a main priority of Built for Zero. They focus on data to make decisions, switch courses when needed, and measure their results along the way. This data-driven approach has caught the attention of people across the U.S., as well as groups in Canada, Europe, and Australia. Built for Zero is proud to partner with motivated communities all over the world to work toward an end to homelessness, beginning with chronic and veteran homelessness.

“We needed to start putting names and faces to those people.”

For many years, communities measured their homeless population with anonymous annual aggregate counts. While this is still common practice, Built for Zero is proving that taking the time and effort to create By-Name Lists is what will ultimately make the difference in housing the chronically homeless and homeless veterans.

By-Name Lists, as the title suggests, track actual names, as well as information which will make it easier to find housing and help for homeless individuals. Using a common assessment tool to seek answers to 30-40 questions, community leaders and volunteers end up with a more complete picture of each homeless individual, what their needs are, and how to best find them housing.

“Once a community starts developing this by name list…they start to see the results in their own community.” 

Built for Zero has been so successful in their efforts that they are now incorporating focus on preventing the inflow of homeless individuals by finding patterns within the prison system, frequent hospital visitors, and those who are aging out of the foster care system. By finding ways to help people before they hit the homelessness system, Built for Zero plans to bolster their housing efforts and one day see an end to this solvable problem.

Listen to Jessica detail Built for Zero’s processes and how they use a data-driven approach to end homelessness when you watch her 2017 Civic Hacker Summit interview, which can be accessed when you join the network! You don’t want to miss this inspiring and insightful talk.

How Data is Used to End Veteran and Chronic Homelessness

Listen to Jessica detail Built for Zero’s processes and how they use a data-driven approach to end homelessness when you watch her 2017 Civic Hacker Summit interview, which can be accessed when you join the network! You don’t want to miss this inspiring and insightful talk.

Watch the Full Interview