Can This Data-Driven Organization Help Those Most Desperate Escape Life on the Streets?

NationSwell: “…Community Solutions works in neighborhoods around the country to provide practical, data-driven solutions to the complicated problems involved in homelessness. The organization has already achieved great success: its 100,000 Homes campaign, which ran from 2010 to 2014, helped 186 participating communities house more than 105,000 homeless Americans across the country.” (Chronically homeless individuals make up 15 percent of the total homeless population, yet they utilize the majority of social services devoted towards helping them, including drop-in shelters.) To do this, it challenged the traditional approach of ending homelessness: requiring those living on the streets to demonstrate sobriety, steady income or mental health treatment, for example. Instead, it housed people first, an approach that has demonstrated overwhelming success: research finds that more than 85 percent of chronically homeless people housed through “Housing First” programs are still in homes two years later and unlikely to become homeless again.

“Technology played a critical role in the success of the 100,000 Homes campaign because it enabled multiple agencies to share and use the same data,” says Erin Connor, portfolio manager with the Cisco Foundation, which has supported Community Solutions’ technology-based initiatives. “By rigorously tracking, reporting and making decisions based on shared data, participating communities could track and monitor their progress against targets and contribute to achieving the collective goal.” As a result of this campaign, the estimated taxpayer savings was an astonishing $1.3 billion. Building on this achievement, its current Zero 2016 campaign works in 75 communities to sustainably end chronic and veteran homelessness altogether.

Technology and data gathering is critical for local and nationwide campaigns since homelessness is intimately connected to other social problems, like unemployment and poverty. One example of the local impact Community Solutions has had is in Brownsville (a neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y., that’s dominated by multiple public housing projects) via the Brownsville Partnership, which is demonstrating that these problems can be solved — to create “the endgame of homelessness,” as Haggerty puts it.

In Brownsville, the official unemployment rate is 16 percent, “about double that of Brooklyn” as a whole, Haggerty says, noting that the statistic excludes those not currently looking for work. In response, the organization works with existing job training programs, digging into their data and analyzing it to improve effectiveness and achieve success.

“Data is at the heart of everything we do, as far as understanding where to focus our efforts and how to improve our collective performance,” Haggerty explains. Analyzing usage data, Community Solutions works with health care providers, nonprofits, and city and state governments to figure out where the most vulnerable populations live, what systems they interact with and what help they need….(More)”