The Approach


Built for Zero is a methodology, a movement, and proof of what is possible. The movement is made up of more than 100 cities and counties that have committed to measurably ending homelessness, one population at a time. Using data, these communities have changed how local homeless response systems work and the impact they can achieve.

Fourteen of those communities have ended homelessness for a population by reaching a standard called functional zero. More than half of those cities and counties have achieved reductions in the number of people experiencing chronic and veteran homelessness.

Together, they are proving that moral courage, data-driven thinking, and a system-wide approach can build a future where homelessness is rare overall and brief when it occurs.

Getting to zero takes moral courage, data-driven thinking, and a system-wide approach.

Great housing programs alone aren’t enough to end homelessness — that’s old-school thinking! Getting to zero takes a whole system built to drive reductions.

Homelessness is a big and complex problem — but it is not one too big or complex to be solved. Video by Eido


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.


Funders evaluate success on the performance of individual housing programs, not on whether a community collectively reduces homelessness. But single programs don’t get us to zero— whole communities do.


Community-level measurement. Built for Zero communities measure success by the total number of people experiencing homelessness, not by program outcomes. The best program is one that gets you closer to 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.


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 racial justice issue.

Research shows that Black and Native Americans experience homelessness at disproportionately high rates, even when disparities in poverty level are controlled. Like any system, a homeless response system that is not explicitly designed to identify and respond to racial inequity will potentially sustain and even deepen it.

With input from external partners, community leaders, and people with lived experience of homelessness, Built for Zero developed a framework to empower communities working to end homelessness to ensure their systems aren’t leaving anyone behind. The framework seeks to equip communities with indicators, and accompanying measures, to signal progress toward four critical areas of a racially equitable homeless response system.

Complex social challenges aren’t simply about checking the right boxes or implementing the right policy ideas; they’re about responding to changing information in real time.

The Process

The Built for Zero process leads communities through five phases:

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Problem Solving Toolkit

You’ll build an integrated, command center team that can take responsibility for getting to zero.

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By-Name List

You’ll work with our coaching team to build a comprehensive real-time, by-name list of all single adults experiencing homelessness in your community.

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Reduce to Zero

You’ll learn the science of testing improvement ideas in rapid cycles to drive monthly reductions in homelessness.

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Sustaining Zero

You’ll learn how to sustain functional zero for your target population.

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Zero for All

You’ll expand your focus to new target populations and drive toward ending all homelessness.

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“Before working with Built for Zero, I wouldn’t have been able to measure whether a change was working or not. Now  I constantly find myself asking, ‘How will we know if this worked?’ Before we just weren’t framing system change this way, and weren’t asking this question.”

Erin Mangano, VA Coordinated Entry Specialist, Cook County, IL

Our Partners

Our strategic partners bring their knowledge, relationships, and leverage to bear in support of the work of our communities. They are a critical piece of the puzzle, and we are deeply grateful for their contributions to support and sustain our work. Learn more about our partners.