In late 2021, Portland, Gresham and Multnomah County joined Built for Zero, a national movement of more than 90 cities and counties in the United States working to measurably and equitably end homelessness.
Progress Update: The Joint Office of Homeless Services on Tuesday, April 19, 2022 briefed the Board of Commissioners on its participation in Built for Zero.
What is Built for Zero?
Communities in Built for Zero work towards measurably ending homelessness for all, by strengthening data-driven systems that can continuously reduce homelessness for populations. In April 2021, Community Solutions was awarded the MacArthur Foundation’s $100 million 100&Change grant to help communities accelerate an end to homelessness through its Built for Zero initiative.
Portland, Gresham and Multnomah County will leverage this partnership to accelerate our efforts to reduce and end chronic homelessness. People who are chronically homeless are part of a federally defined population that includes individuals experiencing long-term or recurring homelessness, in shelter or unsheltered, who have a verified disability defined by The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Which group of people experiencing homelessness are the focus of this effort?
The current focus is on single adults experiencing chronic homelessness. Chronic homelessness (according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development definition) is long-lasting or recurring homelessness for a community’s most vulnerable neighbors. It is defined by the federal government as impacting people who have experienced homelessness for at least a year — or repeatedly over the last three years — while living with a disability.
I am someone in the targeted population (eg. an adult who is experiencing ongoing and chronic homelessness). How can I get on this list and get help?
If you are in need of help and are in Multnomah County, the first and best step to connect to services is to call 211 and explain your situation, and the trained operators there can connect you with a service provider. You can also connect with resources at 211info.org or the Street Roots Rose City Resource Guide.
Why only 'chronically homeless individuals' and not others?
As part of the Built for Zero initiative, we will focus our initial system improvement on people experiencing chronic homelessness. But this is just an initial step meant to help us on our journey toward ending homelessness for all populations. Recent research from the Urban Institute found that Built for Zero's approach of focusing on an initial population helps the community accelerate progress around the subsequent populations.
With Portland currently experiencing a large influx of unsheltered homelessness and an increase in those experiencing chronic homelessness, this current focus will help us identify strategies to address it now and moving forward. This approach gives us the ability to build a strategy that is effective, which we can then apply to other groups experiencing homelessness, based on needs and additional factors.
Ending chronic homelessness is about creating systems that can end homelessness for who are often among the most vulnerable and marginalized populations. When we have systems that work for those folks, we are able to improve systems for other populations as well.
With the Supportive Housing Services (SHS) measure passed by voters in May 2020, there were clear priorities identified - Multnomah County/Portland has chosen this particular population to promote alignment with the ‘Population A’ priority reflected in our SHS funding.
What do you mean by 'functional zero' - does it mean zero homeless people living on the street?
Functional Zero means that our system has reached a point where it is able to adequately serve the people who we are attempting to reach, by appropriately providing interventions based on their needs. The definition for Functional zero is not the same for the Veteran population as it is for the Chronically Homeless population.
It is important to understand that not everyone living on the streets is chronically homeless, nor are all chronically homeless people sleeping on the street at any particular moment in time. However, by focusing on chronically homeless individuals we can try to address the needs of people who have not been adequately supported in the past, and which the new voter-supported funding prioritizes.
Please see the video here for a more in depth explanation: What is Functional Zero?
By joining Built for Zero, does this mean that Portland and Multnomah County are going to end homelessness in six months in our community?
No. That's an ambitious goal (not impossible, but difficult, given the constant stream of people entering homelessness in our current local economy). The current goal within these first 6 months is to build up the existing by-name list to ensure it captures all single adults experiencing homelessness within our community, identifiable by name. After we have developed the quality, by-name list, we will use that target to figure out what staffing, funds and resources are required to reach functional zero for chronically homeless individuals.
What is a 'by-name list' and how is it different from lists that already exist?
The by-name list is a real-time, person-specific list of everyone experiencing homelessness. The by-name list provides communities with a full and real-time view of homelessness in their geography. Using this data, we will be able to triage individual cases, understand the broader patterns of homelessness in their community, and ensure that resources and efforts are driving down the overall number of people experiencing homelessness.
Please see this video for a more in depth explanation: How By-Name data helps communities end homelessness
How does this list relate to the Point-in-Time count? Is that how you are doing the outreach? How will the numbers found in the count correspond to the numbers you are using to reach 'functional zero'?
The most recent Point in Time Count (PIT) took place January 26, 2022. The PIT Count is a way of receiving a snapshot in time of the current volume of homeless individuals in our community, as well as where they are located and some other general information. Much like a census, it builds aggregate data to help us contextualize the situation and understand the overall size of our homeless population Built For Zero's framework, however, much like coordinated entry, involves collecting individual data with an eye towards building personal relationships that will allow us to work with those most in need to find housing and housing services to get and keep them housed. In order to build more trusting relationships around the Built for Zero framework, while still ensuring that the PIT Count allows a level of anonymity to ensure that we collect the most extensive and inclusive data possible, we will not be using the PIT Count to collect Built for Zero data.
The PIT count is mandated by the Federal US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Communities are to complete it every two years, as one of the compliance components for Continuum of Care (CoC) funding. The PIT Count is not exact, and is often an underrepresentation of the true count of individuals and families experiencing homelessness. PIT count data is to provide aggregated (de-identified) data to have a snapshot in time. This is quite different from a by-name list, which is a tool that we are developing now in collaboration with Built for Zero, to allow case managers to develop relationships over time with chronically homeless individually, to try to understand their situation and provide them with the help they need to get into stable housing.
What metric are you using to determine whether people have actually achieved the goal of stable, permanent housing?
The Joint Office is using a new housing placement metric as of FY22, based not just on move-in data, but also including additional housing outcomes that the previous enrollment metric omitted. The information is online and included in our FY22 First Quarter Report on outcomes from the Supportive Housing Services measure. If you look at the numbers we are reporting now, it may seem at first glance that we are helping fewer people into stable, permanent housing in 2021 than we did in 2020 and in 2019. But in actuality, we are simply using a more accurate measure for declaring that someone is permanently, stably housed.
The reason for this is a changed requirement in reporting from HUD, and a change in which department in the local government is responsible for tracking and updating the data. Up until 2021, the Portland Housing Bureau and the Department of County Human Services retained responsibilities for data management for the adult system and the youth and family systems, respectively, even after the formation of the Joint Office of Homeless Services in 2016. But it wasn’t until mid-2021 when the Joint Office assumed some responsibilities from the Portland Housing Bureau. These include data-quality monitoring for the Adult homelessness system, as well as a range of other database administration functions. Overall responsibility for database administration remains with the Portland Housing Bureau.
Please see the video here for a more in depth explanation: How By-Name Data Helps Communities End Homelessness