An Episcopal priest has helped to spearhead a successful national campaign to find permanent housing for 100,000 homeless Americans in fewer than four years. The Rev. Linda M. Kaufman, canonically resident in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, directed national field organizing for the 100,000 Homes Campaign, which announced last month that it had helped 186 communities find permanent housing for 105,580 chronically homeless Americans, including more than 31,000 veterans since launching in July 2010. As National Field Organizer, Kaufman oversaw community enrollment and training for the Campaign and logged over 140,000 miles of travel. The 100,000 Homes Campaign is a national movement coordinated by New York-based non-profit, Community Solutions, which launched the effort in July of 2010. Kaufman served as the Campaign’s chief public speaker, addressing community groups and conferences around the country about how they could play a role. Kaufman credits her training as a preacher with preparing her for this work. “Linda channeled her passion for social justice into organizing for the 100,000 Homes Campaign with such heart,” said Becky Kanis, who directed the Campaign. “She carried the opportunity to improve the lives of homeless Americans like the precious gift that it was, and people really responded to that. I still meet people from all over the country who say things like, ‘Do you know Linda Kaufman? She really inspired us to make the changes we had needed to make for a long time.’” Kaufman graduated from Virginia Theological Seminary in 1986 and was ordained a priest a year later. Since 1997, she has been affiliated clergy at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church in Washington, DC. She began her journey working with people experiencing homelessness in 1985 as a volunteer at Mt. Carmel House, a DC program run by Catholic Charities. By 1993, she was working full time for a DC-based dinner program for homeless women. In the mid-1990s, she was asked to bring the then controversial Housing First approach to Washington, DC, and she reached out to Pathways to Housing in New York City to create a DC affiliate. Housing First, which became official federal policy under the second Bush administration, is a housing strategy that seeks to offer people experiencing homelessness permanent housing right away without requiring their participation in treatment or services. The policy, which boasts an 85 percent housing retention rate nationally, developed in contrast to traditional approached which required homeless individuals to achieve sobriety or obtain work before offering them access to housing. Housing First offers an array of supportive services, but does not condition housing upon them. The 100,000 Homes Campaign helped communities across the country adopt the gold standard Housing First approach, which is supported by the research consensus. Kaufman was instrumental in convincing communities to make the shift. “For almost 30 years I have known that working with individuals who are homeless is my vocation,” says Kaufman. “The 100,000 Homes Campaign has been a powerful outlet for my growing belief that we can actually end homelessness. For the first time, I have seen how individual communities can truly end homelessness on the ground. And, if communities can do it locally, then together, we can end homelessness nationwide. I believe that this work is what God made me to do— and now I get to do it. I am so grateful.”
HISTORY AND RESULTS OF THE 100,000 HOMES CAMPAIGN
Community Solutions launched the 100,000 Homes Campaign in July of 2010 at the annual conference of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. At that time, just 36 communities had agreed to participate in the national effort to house 100,000 people. Community Solutions also set a deadline for this ambitious goal: July 2014. Over the life of the Campaign, largely due to Kaufman’s diligent travel to every reach of the country, the number of enrolled communities grew to 186 in more than 40 states. Together, those communities attended monthly webinars and regional in-person convenings to share new ideas and problem solve together. They have also made use of social media and a virtual infrastructure to learn together and spur each other on. Participation was free of charge for all communities, thanks to the Campaign’s generous funders and partners. Communities participating in the 100,000 Homes Campaign have achieved success by doing four things differently:
- First, they hit the streets at 4 a.m. to identify all of their homeless neighbors by name and build a file on each person’s housing needs. Kaufman served as the lead trainer in these efforts, conducting 15 such trainings across the country for more than 130 communities.
- Second, they prioritize their most vulnerable and chronically homeless neighbors for the first permanent housing available, without preconditions. This research-based, Housing First approach is proven, even for those who have been homeless for extended periods of time or who face serious health conditions associated with an increased risk of death on the streets.
- Third, they track and measure their monthly housing progress against predetermined benchmarks designed to put them on pace to end chronic and Veteran homelessness on the federal timeline. When the Campaign began, just 12 participating communities were measurably on track to end chronic and veteran homelessness. Today, that number has grown to 60.
- Finally, they use data and process improvement techniques drawn from industry to streamline their local housing systems, making them faster and more easily navigable for the homeless Americans who depend on them. Many communities have reduced the time required to house a single homeless individual from over a year to as little as two weeks.
Communities participating in the 100,000 Homes Campaign have helped speed the downward national trend in homelessness by focusing on Veterans, the chronically homeless, and those who face the highest risk of death on the streets. Between 2010 and today, Veteran homelessness has declined by 30 percent to 49,933, falling under 50,000 for the first time since the nation began counting. The largest decrease—almost 40 percent—has come among Veterans sleeping on the streets as opposed to shelters or in programs. These are precisely the kind of Veterans that Campaign communities have been working to target. During the same period, the number of individuals experiencing chronic homelessness has dropped by fifteen percent from 109,812 to 92,593.
Communities participating in the Campaign have achieved significant improvement in their housing performance. They have gone from housing an average of 1.6 percent of their chronically homeless populations each month to 5.1 percent. Additionally, 60 of these communities are now on track to end chronic homelessness outright in the next three years. In 2011, that number was just 12.
DRAMATIC TAXPAYER SAVINGS
An analysis developed by Liana Downey and Associates, a strategic government advisory firm, estimates the total taxpayer savings from housing 100,000 chronically homeless Americans at more than $1.3 billion annually, based on a review of existing studies. This is due to the fact that chronically homeless people make frequent use of emergency services like the ER, where a single night’s stay often costs more than a full month’s rent in permanent housing. Connecting these individuals to permanent housing with simple supportive services to help them remain housed reduces public costs by as much as 37 percent each year.
Chronically homeless Americans are defined federally as those who have been homeless for one year or more, or four or more times in the past three years, and are living with a disabling medical condition. This group accounts for 12-15 percent of the homeless population in US communities yet consumes more than 70 percent of all public dollars spent on homelessness through high emergency service usage.
“Study after study confirms that it is cheaper to end homelessness than to let it persist,” said Rosanne Haggerty, President of Community Solutions, which launched and coordinates the Campaign. “Fiscal concerns are no longer an acceptable excuse for failing to end homelessness. Permanent housing with services, targeted to chronically homeless Americans, is the smartest, most cost-effective way to do the right thing.”
In January, Community Solutions will launch Zero: 2016, a national effort to build on the success of the Campaign by helping communities get to zero on chronic and Veteran homelessness. Kaufman will continue to serve as the primary liaison to communities throughout the country looking to get more deeply involved in the national movement to end homelessness.