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Next City: How Bakersfield, California Ended Chronic Homelessness

May 11, 2021

Sometimes all it takes is a microwave.

When homeless service providers in Bakersfield, California, were working their way down the list of people experiencing chronic homelessness in the area, trying to find housing units for each one, the groups had to solve for a variety of challenges, says Anna Laven, executive director of the Bakersfield Kern Regional Homeless Collaborative. The groups began meeting regularly after joining the Built for Zero campaign to end homelessness in 2015. The cornerstone of the Built for Zero approach is a by-name list of every person experiencing homelessness in different categories — chronically homeless, veterans, youth, families, and so on. The collaborative worked to find housing for every person on the list through case conferencing, regularly meeting to discuss individual cases and figure out what it would take to get that person into an apartment.

In some cases the challenge had to do with landlords. One of the individuals on the area’s by-name list had two dogs, for example, and it took extra work to find a landlord who would lease a unit to someone with pets. Another person didn’t want to move into a certain apartment because there was no microwave. So the collaborative bought them one.

“The whole idea of a by-name list and case conferencing is that you’re trying to take a group that has similar enough needs that you can kind of create an efficiency there,” Laven says. “But within that you still very much have to treat everybody as an individual.”