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Talking about Built for Zero

December 1, 2022

Built for Zero is a movement of more than 100 communities in the United States committed to measurably ending homelessness — and proving that it is possible. Built for Zero communities work to render homelessness rare and brief for populations, working to achieve functional zero, a dynamic end state when they can sustain “net zero” homelessness, where fewer people are experiencing homelessness than can routinely exit homelessness in a month. 



District Of Columbia






  • 14 communities have made homelessness rare and brief for a population, reaching a milestone known as functional zero. By achieving functional zero, communities have reduced homelessness toward zero, and maintain a state of “net zero” homelessness, where fewer people are experiencing homelessness than are routinely exiting it. Functional zero is not a one time achievement, but must be sustained over time. You can find the list of communities that have reached functional zero here.
  • 42 communities have achieved population-level reductions in homelessness. Communities in Built for Zero have often described the shift from responding to homelessness to ending it. This means ensuring that all their efforts to help individuals are adding up to fewer people experiencing homelessness overall, which we refer to as population-level reductions.
  • 64 communities have real time, person-specific data, also known as by name data, which enables them to deliver more tailored solutions for each individual and understand whether the overall number is going up or down, month over month.

Please refer to the dashboard at this website for the real-time numbers. 


  • There is no single, magic bullet for driving homelessness to zero across a city or county — but that does not mean it is not possible. Making homelessness rare and brief takes more than a single intervention or sector — it takes the full force of a community-wide system designed to solve the problem. Communities in Built for Zero are proving it.

  • Many people are aware that making progress on reducing homelessness requires resources and access to dignified, safe, and affordable housing. But what has often been underappreciated is the power of reimagining how homeless response systems work to prevent homelessness before it occurs, detect it when it does, and resolve it quickly. Many communities have described the change as shifting from being designed to respond to the problem, to being designed to measurably end it.

  • By focusing on systems change, and using data as north star, more than half of those cities and counties have driven reductions in a population of people experiencing homelessness. 

Creating a shared definition of the right end state

The first step to solving homelessness is having a shared definition of what we are trying to achieve. Communities in Built for Zero use functional zero, a milestone that indicates that homelessness is measurably rare and brief for a population. They often work to achieve functional zero for various target populations (veteran, chronic, family, youth, all singles) as steps on the way to making homelessness rare and brief for everyone. This dynamic milestone enables communities to continuously confirm whether they are driving homelessness toward zero.


A definition of success limited to program outcomes. 
Success is widely measured by the success of housing programs, not on whether a community reduces the number of people experiencing  homelessness.


A commitment to functional zero. 
The command center operates under a unified aim of reducing the number of individuals experiencing homelessness as the key measure of their results — all the way down to zero.

Assembling an accountable, community-wide team and system

One of the key challenges to ending homelessness is the distributed and fragmented system of homelessness response. In any community, dozens or even hundreds of organizations may serve people experiencing homelessness, each defining success by their own program measures.

Communities in Built for Zero begin by breaking down these siloes to establish a unified team that creates shared accountability for driving homelessness toward zero. In many communities, these teams are committed to working together weekly to examine how they can connect people to permanent housing, moving from a mentality of “my client” to “our clients.”

They can see the system as a whole and collectively remove barriers that are impacting the whole population of people experiencing homelessness.


No single actor is fully accountable for ending homelessness in a community.
Each local agency or program holds its own small piece of the solution, but no one has their eye on how the pieces fit together.


An integrated, command center team.
Key agencies, like the Continuum of Care, the housing authority, local government, and the VA, work together every week toward a shared definition of zero.

Using real-time data, which accounts for everyone by name and need

Achieving real-time, person-specific data is a necessary step for driving toward functional zero. By-name data is a comprehensive source of information that accounts for every person in a community experiencing homelessness, updated in real time. Using information collected and shared with their consent, each person on the list has a file that includes their name, homeless history, health, and housing needs.

With this by-name list — updated monthly, at a minimum — the community is able to better match housing solutions with the needs of the individuals. At the population level, this information enables them to prioritize resources, test changes to their system, and understand whether their efforts are driving overall homelessness toward zero.


A once-a-year count of a problem that changes nightly.
Annual street counts are a snapshot; your community needs a video. Getting to zero takes line of sight into how people move through your system over time.


Comprehensive, real-time, by-name data.
Built for Zero communities know everyone experiencing homelessness by name, in real time. The result is more tailored solutions for individuals and a clearer picture of the system as a whole.

Centering racial equity

Racism and homelessness are inextricably linked. Research shows that Black and Native Americans experience homelessness at disproportionately high rates, even when we control for disparities in poverty level.

This means that, like so many other systems of care in America impacted by racism, the homeless response system produces racial disparities. The system can maintain or exacerbate these disparities — or work to dismantle them. Communities are using data to understand and improve the racial equity of a community’s homeless response system.

Communities work to track disparities in outcomes, such as:

  • The length of time people spend homeless
  • Rates of return from housing, which tell us about the level of support folks are afforded and the sustainability of our interventions
  • Rates of exit to permanent housing, which can help us think about resource allocation and who is being underserved by our current systems of care.

They also look at system decision-making power and the experiences of people being served by the systems.

The systems responding to homelessness have not historically been designed to identify or address racial disparities.

Making targeted, data-driven housing investments

Built for Zero communities use real-time data to secure the housing resources they need and target them for the greatest possible reductions in homelessness. Often, housing investments are disconnected from the systems responsible for supporting people experiencing homelessness, or they focus on maintaining legacy efforts that do not help a community reduce homelessness.

With the real-time understanding of changing dynamics of homelessness within a city or county, partners can work together to make strategic investments that will contribute to population-level results, like community infrastructure and affordable housing.


Housing supply paralysis. Expanded housing resources are crucial, but many cities have dramatically expanded housing supply without making a dent in homelessness. The reason? They never fixed the housing system.


Strategic, data-driven housing investments. Built for Zero communities use real-time data to secure the housing resources they need and target them for the greatest possible reductions in homelessness.


Homelessness is a solvable systems problem

Solving homelessness with Built for Zero

See the Canadian version of this video here

An animated guide to complex social challenges

Building an operating system to end homelessness


You can access our Built for Zero media kit at this link.


You can download a logo of your community in this folder.


Find a Google Slides deck with an overview of Built for Zero at this link.

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