Spending more money to reduce homelessness would not necessarily reduce the number of people living on the streets, a nationally recognized expert warned regional homeless advocates on Friday, June 17.
"We're used to saying, until there's enough housing, don't hold us accountable. But we have to be able to show that progress is being made," Rosanne Haggerty, founder and CEO of Community Solutions, told a morning forum hosted by the Interfaith Alliance on Poverty.
Community Solutions argues that every homeless person needs to be identified by name, location and need in real time though a process it calls Built for Zero. It is already working with 107 communities and claims that 65 have such databases and 14 of them have reduced their homeless populations.
"We need to real-time by-name data to learn who's new to homelessness and who's returning," Haggerty said.
Community Solutions recently was selected as the recipient of the MacArthur Foundation's $100 million grant as the "single proposal that promises real and measurable progress in solving a critical problem of our time."
Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas counties are at various stages of implementing such databases. The work is occurring as more money than ever is available to reduce homelessness, thanks to multi-million affordable housing and services measures approved by Portland and Metro voters.
But some participants said there is confusion over what regional changes need to be made. They said agencies have been providing services for years and already have identified homeless people by name in lists required for federal funding.
Haggerty said such lists are not comprehensive and miss many homeless people who have not contacted such agencies. She also said all services need to be coordinated through an "emergency command center" that ensures all information is shared and new approaches to reducing homelessness are tried repeatedly.
"Many cities have dramatically expanded the housing supply without making a debt in homelessness," one slide presented by Haggerty reads.
Haggerty praised two Portland officials as influencing her organization's work. One was the late Portland Commissioner Nick Fish, whom Haggerty met when he was a homeless advocate working to save a single-room-occupancy building in New York before moving to Portland. The other is Portland Commissioner Dan Ryan, whom Haggerty met when he was the director of All Hands Raised, a data-driven education reform organization, before being elected to the City Council.
The forum was held at the Westminster Presbyterian Church at 1624 N.E. Hancock. It was cosponsored by Shelter Now and Here for Everyone, an advocacy group that helped create and pass the Metro supportive services measure.
More information on Community Solutions and Built for Zero is available at the website.
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