Kaiser sees success with data-driven program to reduce homelessness

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It’s been a little more than two years since Kaiser Permanente announced plans to address the problem of chronic homelessness through the use of data analytics.

In an effort to better understand the dynamics of homelessness and offer more timely interventions for at-risk patients, Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser announced in 2019 it was investing $3 million over three years to use data analytics to provide real-time counts of homeless individuals within a community month-over-month.

The effort, a partnership with New York-based not-for-profit Community Solutions, aimed to end chronic homelessness in 15 Kaiser patient communities as part of the organization’s Built for Zero campaign.

Since that time, Built for Zero has expanded to 30 Kaiser patient communities across the country and has been scaled up from countywide to statewide initiatives in several areas.

John Vu, vice president of strategy for community health at Kaiser, said the program has already resulted in reducing homelessness in 10 communities the health system serves, including a 97% drop in one instance.

The health impact of homelessness and unstable housing has been known for 30 years. Yet it has only been mostly over the past decade that healthcare providers have acknowledged a need to take more direct involvement in addressing those issues.

Vu said what set Built for Zero apart from other efforts has been its ability to connect the dots between public health and homelessness. The use of such tools has helped program stakeholders to more effectively track patterns of homelessness within their communities. The information helps both hospitals and local social services providers to have a timelier understanding of where the problem is improving or getting worse in communities, allowing them to better target resources.

“Engagement of the Built for Zero model in these places means a focused attention on the commitment to high-quality data and bringing rigorous processes to addressing homelessness,” Vu said.

The program was selected in April to receive $100 million as part of the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change competition. The money will be used to carry out Built for Zero’s strategic plan over the next five years, said Rosanne Haggerty, CEO of Community Solutions, to help 75 communities get to a point of “functional zero,” where any new incidents of homelessness can be identified and resolved within 30 days.

“The resources will enable us to add components to our work that we never had the resources to activate before,” Haggerty said.

Such components include creating a fund to enable large cities to acquire more properties to house homeless individuals, as well as dedicating a team to help communities address any regulatory barriers that are hindering their efforts to end homelessness.

“I don’t think anyone would be convinced that there will never be another person or family in a housing crisis,” Haggerty said. “It’s about having a system in place that allows you to solve it every day.”

Within Kaiser’s footprint, Bakersfield and Kern counties in California—a population of more than 900,000—in January 2020 reduced the number of people experiencing chronic homelessness from 62 to two people that month, and has been able to sustain an average of three or fewer people experiencing long-term homelessness since.



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