How Cities are Innovating in the Fight Against Homelessness

There’s no point in sugarcoating it: the fight against homelessness in the U.S. is a massive, complex undertaking.

Significant strides in this battle will only come as the result of comprehensive efforts on the parts of local, state and federal governments; non-profits; and the private sector.

Local governments and non-profits have implemented some new tactics in recent years to reduce homelessness in our cities. Below is an overview of some of those innovations:

  • Tiny homes. Tiny homes are doing more than just serving as dwellings for those looking to radically downsize their possessions.

In many cities, tiny home villages have been built to house the homeless. Dallas, Detroit, Syracuse, N.Y., Nashville, Tenn., and Portland, Ore., are just a few of the cities that now feature these kinds of tiny home communities.

  • Apartments. Cities and non-profits have also constructed apartment communities to house the homeless. Denver, Portland, Ore., and Los Angeles are among the cities that now feature multifamily properties reserved for the homeless.

According to an article on Smart Cities Dive, “Apartments are one form of the ‘housing first’ approach, which also has led to the spread of tiny houses for the homeless. This method helps people who are homeless to quickly move into and stay in permanent housing. It typically involves providing services and short-term assistance without preconditions such as employment, sobriety or the lack of a criminal record.

“A common practice in housing first approaches is to provide rental assistance based on what a person can pay rather than supplying completely free housing,” the article adds. “That embraces the fact that about 40 percent of people experiencing homelessness have some income, while combating the widely-held misconception that all homeless people are unemployed.”

  • Apps. New York City is now using an app called StreetSmart, which, according to Government Technology, “enables homelessness outreach workers in all five boroughs to communicate and log data seamlessly in real time” while they’re talking to homeless people on the streets.

With the use of the app, outreach workers are able to “enter that information into a single citywide database as they collect it, a stark contrast to the prior system, which saw individual outreach workers keeping their own files in systems that were generally not interconnected,” Government Technology reports.

The upshot, according to the city, is that the up-to-date information in a centralized database accessible to all will improve the efficiency of the outreach workers’ efforts to get homeless people into city shelters and services. “This app basically allows us to help outreach workers communicate better with each other,” Jaclyn Rothenberg, a spokeswoman for the New York City mayor’s office, told Government Technology.

In the end, no single entity, sector or industry can solve America’s homelessness problem alone. Private industry has a huge role to play in this issue.

Private businesses are innovative, nimble and efficient, and bringing these qualities to the fight against homelessness will benefit all. Private companies can make a huge impact by making a commitment to hiring ready-to-work individuals who are experiencing homelessness and helping them find a place to live.

But local governments are a vital component of the fight as well, and efforts and innovations made by cities and counties should be applauded and implemented throughout the country.


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