The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
March 24, 2015

A data-driven approach doesn’t have to be impersonal

March 24, 2015

In 2010, Common Ground, a homeless services and supportive housing provider, launched an effort to house some of the most vulnerable people in the country. They called it the 100,000 Homes Campaign. The following year, a group within Common Ground created Community Solutions, a separate, independent organization, to expand the work. Over four years, Community Solutions enrolled 186 communities in the campaign, including nearly every major city in the country.

The campaign followed a few guiding principles.

  • Know the names and circumstances of every person living on the streets and in shelters.
  • Prioritize permanent housing to those with the greatest need.
  • Employ the Housing First model of providing housing up front instead of making it contingent on maintaining sobriety, employment, or reaching other milestones.
  • Carefully track progress toward housing the chronically or vulnerable homeless.
  • Improve local homeless systems “to target resources to the most vulnerable individuals and families quickly and predictably.”

Participating communities exceeded their goal, securing permanent housing for 105,580 people. And during the campaign, cities and towns that participated experienced larger drops in street homelessness, homelessness among veterans, and chronic homelessness than nonparticipating jurisdictions.

How were they so effective?

There were five main components behind the campaign’s success. Aspects of each are summarized below and detailed in the Urban Institute’s evaluation.

1. Simplicity

A clear, common goal—100,000 homes—helped focus the attention and effort of groups around the country.

2. Urgency

The campaign used a vulnerability index to prioritize those who were literally at risk of dying. Everyone involved knew they were saving lives.

3. Familiarity

A core component of the campaign was the creation of a registry with the names, faces, homeless histories, and vulnerability factors of all people experiencing homelessness. Communities that completed a registry experienced, on average, a 26 percent decrease in chronic homelessness from 2011 to 2014.

4. Responsiveness

Community Solutions monitored data to gauge performance and respond to problems. For example, early in the campaign, each site set its own goal for its placement rate, the percentage of chronically or vulnerable homeless people it housed each month. But after an early analysis showed sites were on track to miss the target, Community Solutions instituted a national placement rate goal. This marked a turning point: between July 2010 and April 2014, median housing placement rates increased 262 percent.

5. Recognition

Community Solutions created the Fully Committed List and 2.5 Percent Club to publicly recognize the sites that regularly reported their data and reached the placement rate goal. The campaign had limitations. As noted in the report: “[Impact] varied across participants and may have been most effective in communities with moderate- to high-functioning homeless service systems.”

But by appealing to hearts and minds—catering to individual circumstances while working strategically toward a larger goal—the campaign popularized best practices, helped improve homeless service systems, and provided timely support to people in dire need.

Illustration by Adrienne Hapanowicz, Urban Institute

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