If it’s hard to visualize what 105,580 people looks like, think of Billings, Montana; Cambridge, Massachusetts; or Green Bay, Wisconsin. Those cities all have populations just on either side of 105,580, which is the number of people housed nationwide through the 100,000 Homes Campaign before it ended in July 2014, one month ahead of schedule. Even the program’s director, Becky Kanis Margiotta, marvels at the number.
“It was so outrageous—there was nothing logical about it,” she says of picking the number. “We didn’t have any data other than the fact that there were 111,000 chronically homeless people at the time. We had no rational justification for setting that goal or thinking we could meet it, but we said, ‘Let’s do something big.’”
From Street to Community Outreach
The campaign stemmed organically from the New York City–based Street to Home program, which Margiotta started during her tenure at Common Ground, the nation’s largest supportive housing provider (access the related story), as a way to bring the Housing First approach to street outreach. Learn more about Housing First at the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
Using their own vulnerability index, which surveys homeless respondents about eight conditions that put them at higher risk of dying, Street to Home staffers also took pictures of the individuals and got their names. It was a novel approach, says Margiotta, and other cities were soon asking whether they, too, could use the vulnerability index.
“It’s ridiculous to think that as a community you’re making a serious go at addressing street homelessness if you don’t have a proactive, consistent, methodical method of having a list of who’s outside,” she says. Today, Margiotta would recommend the approach, insisting specifically that the Vulnerability Index and Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool (VI-SPDAT) is superior, but in 2007, it was ahead of the curve, and Street to Home was happy to share it with other communities, inviting them to modify it as needed.
“We had this tool that wasn’t perfect, but it inspired people to pay attention to who was out on the street,” says Margiotta. She and her colleague Beth Sandor traveled to some 20 cities during 2008 and 2009 to train groups of volunteers—ranging in size from 20 to 500—in how to conduct what came to be known as Registry Weeks. The volunteers would visit designated areas between 4:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. three mornings in a row to take photos and administer the vulnerability index to people experiencing homelessness. At the end of the week, they would put together a slideshow and invite area residents, city council members, mayors, and others to come watch, to help them grasp the significance of what was so much more than just raw data.
“We created a powerful catalyst moment for the community, where we’d do a slideshow with only their pictures,” says Margiotta, “and we’d say, ‘Here’s who’s going to die if you don’t do something different.’” Those same cities that had said they did not have any available housing suddenly responded differently.
“There’s something about that specificity and enrolling people and going out themselves to support getting information—it was really powerful,” says Margiotta. She and Sandor became “little Johnny Appleseeds,” traveling around the country and watching as cities raced to outdo each other in housing the most vulnerable members of their populations. During that time, they also heard about the 100,000 Lives Campaign, a successful effort to reduce accidental hospital deaths by 100,000 in 18 months. In October 2009, they named their own campaign 100,000 Homes, with an end date of July 2013.
But, by January 2012, although there were plenty of cities enrolled and a “Registry Week training machine” had relieved Margiotta and Sandor of the burden, the team realized they were on track to be the “30,000 Homes Campaign.” So they tacked on another year and redoubled their efforts to enroll three additional communities per month. They also reminded cities to keep track of how many people they had housed and share that information with 100,000 Homes. In addition, recognizing that the average community was only housing 1.6% of the most vulnerable population, a rate that really needed to be 2.5%, they partnered with the Rapid Results Institute. Together, they established the 2.5 Percent Club and invited lower-performing cities to a boot camp, where they set ambitions goals and figured out how to how to double housing rates.
By July 2014, the 2.5 Percent Club had 60 community members with an average rate of 5.1% housed for three months, minimum. At the end of that month, 105,580 people were housed, including 31,171 veterans.
The Evolution of 100,000 Homes Campaign
Although the organization’s primary goal has been met, most of the staff members have stayed through its evolution into Community Solutions, while Margiotta has gone on to found the Social Change Agency in Los Angeles. The objective of Community Solutions’ follow-up project, Zero: 2016, is to help a select group of communities end chronic and veteran homelessness [link to veteran homelessness topics page in Resources] by the end of 2016. It is a significant task, but, if the success of 100,000 Homes is any indicator, success is in the cards.
This article was originally published to highlight the January 2015 theme of Housing. Access more behavioral health and homelessness resources.