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Reducing Homelessness to Zero

28 August 2017 at 4:30 pm
Wendy Williams
A new initiative is aiming to bring homelessness in Adelaide down to zero.

Wendy Williams | 28 August 2017 at 4:30 pm


Reducing Homelessness to Zero
28 August 2017 at 4:30 pm

A new initiative is aiming to bring homelessness in Adelaide down to zero.

The Zero Project, launched by the Don Dunstan Foundation, is targeting rough sleeping in Adelaide’s CBD in a bid to achieve functional zero homelessness – where the number of homeless people on any given night is no greater than the housing placement availability.

The approach focuses on the need for housing supply to match demand in the short term, and in the longer term, puts the focus on support services being in place to help people sustain housing.

It marks the first time a city outside the US has implemented the initiative which is being rolled out across a network of 75 US communities.

Don Dunstan Foundation executive director David Pearson told Pro Bono News the foundation had a proud history of engaging with homelessness issues, and functional zero sat within the ambitions for the city.

“We think that in 2017, Adelaide shouldn’t be seeking just to address street homelessness but to end it, just as other cities like Chicago, Detroit and New Orleans are seeking to do,” Pearson said.

“If we want to be a carbon neutral city, a smart city and a city of live music, then surely we can also be a city that provides a place to call home for our most vulnerable – those sleeping on the streets.”

Pearson said the idea was sparked by a speech given by former Thinker in Residence, Roseanne Haggerty at the foundation’s 2016 Homelessness Conference.

“She just gave a really powerful kind of call to action and challenged us as a community to get our collective act in order to deal with the problem,” he said.

The project has since attracted partners from the community, public and university sectors to work towards functional zero homelessness in Adelaide, with Bendigo Bank coming on board as the principal partner.

Pearson said collaboration was fundamental to the project.

“The Don Dunstan Foundation held a roundtable after the conference to talk about how Roseanne had issued this challenge to us, and really all of the organisations that are involved in homelessness services were very enthusiastic about taking on board a project that tries to seek to do that,” he said.

“The more we went to talk to people, everyone thought it was such a great idea that was so needed, everyone has been so willing to sort of put their shoulder to the wheel and help as part of some collective effort to try and achieve the functional zero goal.”

The foundation is also working with Haggerty’s Community Solutions, which developed the functional zero approach, to bring the initiative to Adelaide.

The head of Community Solutions’ international work, Jake Maguire, said they were excited the benefits of the program were being expanded to other countries.

“We’re proud to be working alongside the Don Dunstan Foundation with a view to making Adelaide the first Australian city committed to implementing this functional zero approach,”  Maguire said.

“The Zero Project has been incredibly successful in harnessing the resources of governments, the community service sector, and the development, housing and real estate industries, as well as with university researchers to achieve functional zero homeless.”

Pearson said what set the approach apart from others was that it was not a program but a system change.

“So often when we think about homelessness, we go ‘right, well let’s do this intervention’ or ‘let’s have this service’ or ‘we need a few more houses’, and in fact that’s what they did in the US to start with and it didn’t work,” he said.

“They had the 100,000 Homes Campaign. They built 100,000 homes, they built them in less time than they thought it would take them to do it, 100,000 homes is pretty phenomenal, but they really just processed people through a broken system quicker. And they did not reduce homelessness… by anywhere near what they wanted to.

“So what they did is rather than setting a goal that counts up to 100,000 they set a goal for counting down to zero.”

The project starts with knowing the names of all the people sleeping rough on any given night and reporting publicly on the overall number of people sleeping rough in as close to real time as possible.

Pearson said it was not “absolute zero” but a “sustainable zero”.

“It is something that you can continue to achieve,” he said.

“Because homelessness is not something you end, other people fall into homelessness and  you need to understand why that is.

“So essentially it starts with changing the system and knowing the people by name that are homeless and then measuring where they go in the system, how they come in and how they go out, and making sure that more people are going into permanent housing than are coming in, and if you are doing that you are on your way to achieving functional zero.”

Pearson said he believed reaching functional zero in Adelaide was “eminently achievable”.

“We have 125 people sleeping rough at any given time [in Adelaide CBD], and a number of years ago we got that number down to 40 – it has bounced back up because we took our eye off the ball, for many reasons – and so I think yes, it is eminently achievable, it just requires a whole bunch of work to be done,” he said.

The first phase of the Adelaide Zero Project will focus on understanding how the functional zero approach can be applied in Adelaide.

To do this, the Don Dunstan Foundation has commissioned a research project led by the University of Adelaide and Flinders University.

“We’ve commissioned some research to help us really apply whats worked in the US, what’s worked in Canada, what’s worked in Europe and make that work here,” Pearson said.

“So we’re taking bits from all over the world that have worked, but really starting with the core goal of what the functional zero approach is, and then taking the lessons from other places that have much more comparable social nets to Australia, than what the US does.”

The first phrase is expected to be completed by early 2018, after which the foundation hopes it will “be in a place to say by when and how we can achieve this goal”.

Social Housing Minister Zoe Bettison said the project was another example of how South Australia “leads the nation in its response to homelessness”.

Lord Mayor Martin Haese said the City of Adelaide was proud to support the project.

“The measure of any great city is the way in which we care for our most vulnerable,” Haese said.

“The City of Adelaide is proud to collaborate with our state government and community partners to lead the way in achieving Functional Zero homelessness in Australia.”

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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