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An Innovative Systems Approach to Eliminating Homelessness

While most agencies trying to end homelessness focus on programs, Community Solutions focuses on a process. The brainchild of Rosanne Haggerty, founder of New York City’s Common Ground, a nonprofit that renovates run-down buildings into housing for homeless people, Community Solutions evolved out of Haggerty’s in-the-trenches realization that homelessness is not simply a problem of insufficient access to homes. Homelessness, Haggerty realized, is a multi-faceted and complex problem that needs a range of community organizations and partners to be brought together to address the homelessness syndrome from multiple angles, incorporating diverse perspectives on homelessness

In an article written for Faith & Leadership, an online offering of Duke Divinity School, author Ansley Roan observed that institutions — for example, the local housing authority, the Department of Veterans Affairs, health care providers and various nonprofit organizations — “tend to see the issue from only their own perspectives, focused on their own role and not the big picture.” Community Solutions, on the other hand, encourages the early adopters and influential leaders in those institutions to “see the problem as shared and solvable.”

Haggerty is openly learning from private enterprise and established industry models. “There’s an awful lot to learn about ending homelessness by looking at the way that Toyota works or the way that a building is built by a sophisticated general contractor,” she said. In particular, she likes to emphasize systems change strategies, continuous improvement protocols, good data collection and use procedures and collaborative partnerships. 

“Fundamentally, I’m a pragmatist and [I’m] looking for things that work,” she said. “The only thing that’s novel about what we’re doing is the nature of the problems we’re applying it to. We’re combining different problem-solving techniques drawn from different industries as they are appropriate to the nature of the problem.” Her goal is not to secure more resources, people or programs, but to get people working together more effectively. “We are now focusing on the whole cluster of issues that touch homelessness,” Haggerty said. Issues like poverty, unemployment, health care needs and crime — all of which contribute to the seeming intransigence of America’s homelessness epidemic. 

Related resources: To learn about another innovative ministry to the homeless, see our resource article, “Empower Those in Need to Minister to One Another.” For more on community outreach, see our feature articles, “Best Resources for Community Engagement,” and “Take Action: Community Engagement.” For a Christmas season sermon prompt on homelessness, read “First Century Problems.”

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