Frequently Asked Questions

How can you possibly end homelessness – won’t there always be someone who’s homeless?

You are right, in that we may not be able to help every person avoid a housing crisis. But we believe that, with the right system in place, they never have to become “homeless”, in the way we understand homelessness today: months or years on the street or in shelter, essentially crossing over to a state-of-being called Homeless.

When we talk about ending homelessness, we mean getting to something we call “functional zero”:

At any point in time, the number of persons experiencing sheltered and unsheltered homelessness will be no greater than the current monthly housing placement rate for persons experiencing homelessness.

In other words, your local system has the proven capacity to re-house someone in crisis within 30 days. Watch this great explanation of Functional Zero (from Community Solutions), using Veterans as an example.

Has any community actually reached functional zero on homelessness?

Yes, as part of the national Built for Zero movement, five communities have reached functional zero for Veterans homelessness: Arlington County, VA; Ft. Myers/Cape Coral/Lee County, FL; Gulf Port/Gulf Coast, MS; Montgomery County, MD; and Rockford/Winnebago/Boone Counties, IL. Two communities have reached zero for chronic (i.e., long-term) homelessness: Bergen County, NJ and Lancaster County, PA.  Many more communities are expected to hit these milestones within the next year.

Won’t it cost too much to house everyone whose homeless?

Many studies have shown that the public costs of maintaining homelessness are much greater than the costs of ending it through the provision of rent and services. This is especially true for persons who are homeless who also have intensive service needs due to mental health and/or substance abuse issues.

This fact surprises many people, until they learn about the costs of the multiple public crisis systems that serve, or otherwise encounter, persons who are homeless, including: emergency shelter, emergency rooms/hospitals, jails, police, courts, detox centers, in-patient mental health centers, and more.

For example, in the City of La Crosse, the annual budget for one cot in an emergency shelter is $14,000.  At that price, you could rent two one-bedroom apartments in La Crosse for a year.

There are many studies, but here is a selection of reports on cost-effectiveness of supportive housing (i.e., housing for high-needs individuals):

Health Care and Public Service Use and Costs Before and After Provision of Housing for Chronically Homeless Persons with Severe Alcohol Problems – Journal of the American Medical Association, 2009

Outcomes from Housing High Cost Homeless Hospital Patients  – Economic Roundtable, 2013

Cost of Serving Homeless Individuals in Nine Cities  – Lewin Group, 2004

I want to learn more about best practices to end homelessness – where can I go?

These are great places to start:

Built for Zero – Community Solutions

National Alliance to End Homelessness

Corporation for Supportive Housing