United Way Los Angles are the backbone organisation for a highly ambitious and impressive Collective Impact initiative called Homes for Good. The galvanizing purpose of the initiative is to end chronic and veteran homelessness in Los Angeles County by 2016. LA Country has almost 10 million people across 88 different cities, and is one of the most diverse counties in America. It has the illustrious reputation of being America’s homeless capital. Every night, over 51,000 people in LA Country experience the harsh, dangerous and deflating challenges of life without a home.
The Action Plan to end homelessness is a beguiling simple document. It contains four strategies:
- Know who is homeless and what they need
- Create the housing and services to help people thrive
- Shift to a housing first system
- Get involved and involve others
Eighteen months of research, policy and mobilisation sits behind these four strategies. When asked what they keys to success are, CEO – Elise Buik – and Homes for Good Director – Christine Marge – are clear that it is this up-front investment that set the stage for impact.
The research that underpins Homes for Good is quite extraordinary. Knowing that existing data sets were not sufficiently detailed or recent, they set about collecting their own data. Through relationships and community engagement, Homes for Good undertakes a homeless count every year, which is ‘a count of every person living on the streets, shelters, or in other places not fit for human habitation to understand the scope of homelessness in each community’. The data is captured in a previously under-utilised government provided database. After one year of operation, 31 of the 88 cities fully counted homelessness and use of the database more than doubled. This year the target is for 70 of the 88 cities to participate in the Homeless Count.
This and other research was a major informant into the policy position Home for Good developed. The policy is presented as a Call to Action, which clearly sets out what each part of the system must do differently in order to end chronic and veteran homelessness by 2016. Developing this policy position was extremely bold. The strengths and dysfunction in the system were laid bare. People feared the accountability, and did not like being ‘told’. Buik and Marge speak of a delicate balance between leading the change agenda and influencing others to lead the change. They also speak of learning to know when to apply pressure and when to step back to allow people time to adjust before inviting them to opt in.
A considerable amount of time was invested into mobilising stakeholders from all sectors behind Home for Good. Particular emphasis was placed in engaging the business community as leaders and advocates of the change. The LA Area Chamber of Commerce co-leads the initiative with United Way LA. A highly influential Business Leaders Task Force was recruited with a brief to keep the vision for change high on the political and community agenda. Their championing of the agenda is seen by Buik and Marge as a key reason why 104 key individuals, agencies and organisations has signed the commitment to partner with other leaders and end chronic and veteran homelessness by 2016. Beyond mobilising organisations to sign-up, Homes for Good then works with them to align their activities to the strategy. This has involved:
- Helping government re-draft its policy to adopt a ‘housing first’ approach
- Influencing funders to change their funding models resulting in a $75mill being collaboratively applied to the strategy, and
- Building the capacity of service providers.
Home for Good also mobilizes community members through mass communications and provides them with opportunities to get involved. Recently 10,000 people walked in HomeWalk – a 5km walk to end homelessness.
Together, the combination of research, policy and mobilisation has changed the narrative in the LA County about homelessness. Quarterly performance reports against the strategy, show incremental but significant progress of a kind that make it entirely possible that chronic and veteran homelessness will be eliminated in LA Country by 2016.