In 2017, we witnessed the first nationwide increase in homelessness since the recession in 2007-08.
Many of the communities that saw an increase were fueled by rapidly rising rents and lagging incomes. Since 2015, at least 10 city and county governments nationwide have declared states of emergency.
In Connecticut, homelessness also made headlines last year, but for different reasons.
In 2017, Connecticut saw an impressive 13% reduction in homelessness, following a multi-year trend. And over the past decade, CT has seen a 24% decrease in homelessness across the state.
Connecticut’s Recipe for Success
It would be easy to explain Connecticut’s success if housing costs in the state were low and wages high. But just the opposite is true. Connecticut ranks 6th in housing costs in the country. The state’s “housing wage,” the hourly pay required to afford a typical two-bedroom apartment in Connecticut, is $24.72, the 8th highest in the country.
Local conditions play a role in explaining some of the factors why people fall into homelessness and who is most impacted. In North Dakota, for example, the oil boom ended and left many families with pay cuts and no jobs, while in cities like San Francisco, the swelling tech industry is largely responsible for low vacancy rates and exorbitantly high housing costs.
While the details driving homelessness may vary from city to city and state to state, Connecticut’s continued success points to three ingredients we believe are essential to the success of a regional or statewide effort to end homelessness.
- A focused campaign with explicit goals
- A clear structure, leadership, and diverse participation
- A focus on implementing proven solutions and testing promising ideas
“The state can’t do it on its own—it needs nonprofit groups. And the nonprofit sector can’t do it without the state. The campaign is bringing us all together.”
—Member of the Reaching Home Campaign
Chronic homelessness decreased by 69%.
All but 200 adults who were experiencing chronic homelessness were housed.
Ending homelessness calls for a laser focused campaign to achieve specific goals within a given timeframe.
In Connecticut, the Reaching Home Campaign plays this key role. The campaign was launched in 2004 to coordinate work across the state to end chronic homelessness. When the federal government released its first comprehensive plan to end homelessness six years later, the Reaching Home Campaign soon expanded to take on this larger mission of ending homelessness for all populations.
The campaign’s long-term focus on chronic homelessness provides a model for what makes it so successful. While this work has the benefit of years of investment and learning, the blistering rate of progress in recent years is due to a set of linked strategies.
Building Local Capacity
There are dozens of emergency shelters throughout the state. For years, the system was hit or miss for people who needed help. When someone lost their home, they would contact a shelter near them to see if they had a bed for the night, sometimes bouncing between shelters and sometimes never finding a spot. There was no centralized way to know how many people needed help, who they were, and what kind of help they needed.
For the past three years, Reaching Home partners, with support from the CT Coalition to End Homelessness and the CT Department of Housing, have made deep improvements to the state’s homeless emergency response system. In each of eight regions they created a Coordinated Access Network (CAN) that identifies and reaches out to people experiencing homelessness and quickly connects them to housing and services. Every CAN now maintains a by-name list of people in their region who are experiencing chronic homelessness, and works to match each person with supportive housing.
information, action, reaction
The campaign created monthly progress reports for the CANs and other stakeholders showing how many individuals were housed over the previous month and how many needed to be housed to reach the goal. CANs could see the real results of their work each month and understand how their efforts fit into the larger picture. And having this data publicly available provided motivation for each CAN to keep up their success or improve their results.
media and advocacy
Reaching Home managed communications for multiple aspects of the effort, including media outreach that led to articles and op-eds. At the same time, Reaching Home partners advocated with state leaders to ensure there were supportive housing resources necessary to meet the demand. This dual strategy paid off. Despite the state’s deep economic crisis in 2017, legislators preserved most of the resources for housing and supportive services in the 2018 budget.
Campaigns rely on the active involvement and skillful coordination of many and diverse partners.
Set a Big Table
Walk into a meeting of one of the working groups of the Reaching Home Campaign and you will likely find advocates, leaders from state and federal agencies, service providers, people who have experienced homelessness, and funders strategizing together. The campaign recognizes that tackling a complex statewide problem that cuts across agencies, disciplines, and populations requires broad participation for meaningful progress to take place. More than 200 people from across 120 entities—nonprofits, government agencies, funders, and people with lived experience with homelessness—are all active in Reaching Home through working groups and committees that morph as needed.
Every Orchestra Needs a Conductor
With a group so big and diverse, having a “backbone” organization responsible for coordination and mobilization is essential. The Partnership for Strong Communities, a longtime grantee partner of the Trust, fills this crucial role. This highly organized structure paired with dedicated leadership is what enables so many people with sometimes competing priorities to effectively work together towards the same goals over many years.
Focus on what we know works and test new ideas.
rely on proven research
There is now a body of solid research on proven approaches that help. The campaign uses practices that have been tested and are proven to be effective in ending homelessness such as rental subsidies, supportive housing, housing first, and rapid re-housing.
Where well-researched solutions aren’t yet available, the campaign takes the lead in designing, adapting, and testing ideas that look promising. The Trust is investing in research in a variety of areas, including:
- Integrating the practice of Critical Time Intervention (CTI) into Rapid Re-housing. CTI is a model of case management that helps people during times of major transition in their lives and has been useful for helping people move from homelessness to housing.
- Understanding how young people use the state’s 2-1-1 helpline: After a study conducted by The Youth Action Hub revealed specific barriers to youth accessing housing services, the United Way created a portal for youth and young adults on their website and implemented a chat feature to 2-1-1 so youth could more easily find services.
Building the Foundation
We are hopeful that soon we will see a headline like this not just in Connecticut but in cities and states across the country. And our guess is that beneath each story, you’ll find an organized campaign led by a large, diverse, group of partners who are committed to the same vision.