Zero is a magic number for those of us working in housing. It represents this idea that homelessness is a problem that can be solved completely.
Across the nation, an estimated half-million people may be sleeping on the street on any given night. This is a group that includes children, elderly, veterans, and chronically ill people exposed to the elements and likely to die 17 years earlier than their housed peers.
With an issue that seems so overwhelming, why are there cities across America who have their sights set on zero? And why are they so sure they can do it?
Quite simply, it’s been done before.
And we think Kansas City can do it, too.
How “Built for Zero” Works
An organization called Community Solutions has created an actionable plan to help cities reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness down to zero. It starts by intentionally collecting data, identifying individuals who are in this situation, and addressing root causes of homelessness to stop the cycle from continuing.
The plan focuses on unifying community organizations, nonprofits, government entities, and individuals because operating in silos has never worked. Further, the plan involves listening to individuals experiencing homelessness so that organizations can get a better understanding of the underlying problems. And, people who are actually living in a homeless circumstance can be a stakeholder in the solution.
Today, 83 communities across the United States are actively engaged in the race to zero. We are proud to say that Kansas City is one of them.
Collecting the Data
In order to get to zero, you have to start with a clear number. Organizations work together on the street-level to identify individuals, get to know them, hear their story, and understand the “how” and “why” they came to be in their situation.
There is not a one-size-fits-all for addressing homelessness. It requires a person-by-person approach. After all, these are humans we’re dealing with, and it is crucial that they are rightfully treated as such.
Solutions that Address the Root Problems
So often, homelessness is talked about as a “them” problem. We look at people who are sleeping under a bridge or piled into tent camps and think things like…
“They must be on drugs.”
“They made poor decisions.”
“They could get a job.”
But what if you flipped the script and thought…
“Maybe that person lost a child and never recovered from the grief.”
“Maybe that person battles mental illness that they can’t get treatment for.”
“Maybe that person’s apartment burned to the ground and they have no family.”
The truth is, we are all just one step away from homelessness.
It’s time to change the conversation from “How did you let yourself get here,” to “How can we as a community keep people from getting here in the first place.”
How can we improve our education systems? How can we change housing laws so that people have options for affordable housing? How can we create places that care for people who are sick without forcing them to choose between rent and medical bills?
These are the root causes we have to address to reach zero.
When you hear “half-million,” the problem can seem extremely overwhelming. But the truth is, the solution is attainable! In fact, ignoring the problem is more expensive than addressing and solving it.
Imagine with us for one moment what it would look like for Kansas City to have zero people experiencing homelessness in our community.
For us, that would look like a community who listened to the vulnerable and stepped up to work on a solution that benefits everyone.
If this sounds like a movement you want to get involved in, contact us and let us know what you’re most excited about, and we’ll send you a list of ways to join us in the journey!