Toward Understanding Homelessness: The 2007 National Symposium on Homelessness Research. Changing Homeless and Mainstream Service Systems: Essential Approaches to Ending Homelessness. Scope of Desired System Change


The extent to which there is a shared vision for ending homelessness is likely to affect the success of system change. For some communities, it is more strategic and feasible to focus on solutions for chronic homelessness; for others, it is important to establish a broader vision to bring critical partners to the table. Communities may need to consider the implications of the scope of their goal, and whether system change needs to be organized separately for different subpopulations or aspects of the goal.

Stakeholders in Jacksonville, Florida, mobilized to establish the Home Safe project to permanently house individuals with chronic alcohol addictions who had been living on the streets or in emergency shelter for extended periods.[4]  The opportunity to apply for federal funds to address the issue provided impetus for the collaboration to form. The focus on alcohol addiction brought new partners to the table, many of whom had not previously been involved in addressing homelessness. The collaboration involves the homeless coalition, local sheriff, two state-funded substance abuse treatment providers, a key homeless assistance provider, and the mental health center  all of which are working together to address a shared problem. The project has resulted in shared funding, joint decision-making, and regular service planning across all of these partners. Although the collaborative is currently limited to this single project, it has provided a positive experience that can be leveraged for future system change efforts.

Conversely, Indianapolis, Indiana, chose to adopt a Blueprint to End Homelessness that defined strategies for preventing and ending all homelessness, including family and short-term homelessness as well as chronic homelessness for individuals (Indianapolis Housing Task Force, 2002). The leaders of this effort determined that establishing a goal of sweeping change affecting a broad constituency was a more appropriate strategy for engaging the wide range of stakeholders they thought would be needed to achieve system change. Ambitious goals multiply the amount of work needed to create change, but they also expand the pool of willing funders, advocates, and allies. There was concern that a narrower goal might alienate potential allies. System change is still underway, and the Blueprint has continued to maintain widespread support. The community has achieved several critical implementation milestones, including creating new permanent supportive housing units, establishing the Marion County Housing Trust Fund ( and a new affordable housing placement clearinghouse ( to expand access to permanent housing, successfully piloting two new cross-disciplinary housing and services initiatives (use of HOME tenant-based rent assistance to move families out of shelter, use of a mental health system of care model to provide resource coordination to persons who are chronically homeless), and sponsoring cost studies to measure the primary and behavioral health cost savings associated with the system-of-care pilot. Stakeholders are currently working on a detailed implementation plan that incorporates major funding shifts, investment of new resources from a broad range of mainstream housing and service agencies, and a carefully planned conversion of the homeless shelter system.

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