Could Homelessness Really End?

By Katherine Jamieson

Rosanne Haggerty '82

A year after Rosanne Haggerty won a 2001 MacArthur “genius grant,” Amherst magazine wrote about her nonprofit Common Ground, which had transformed the Times Square Hotel in New York City from a rat-infested “dumping ground for the homeless” into a model of subsidized “permanent supportive housing,” with health care and job training services on-site—as well as roof gardens and exercise rooms. This year, the organization will open its 2,935th unit of permanent or transitional housing.

Now, Haggerty has launched a new, national organization, Community Solutions, which, through its 100,000 Homes Campaign, aims to find housing for that many people by July 2013. To date, government or nonprofit partners in more than 100 communities around the country have housed roughly 11,000 people.  

The targets of the 100,000 Homes Campaign are among a small, especially vulnerable subset of the homeless. Of the 650,000 people who are homeless on any given day in the United States, only 10 to 15 percent are likely to remain so for years, studies show. This smaller group typically cycles between prisons, hospitals and emergency shelters, often dying on the streets. The emergency services they consume are costly—more costly than housing. “If you don’t have the methodology for identifying those in the long-term chronic cohort, you might bypass them altogether,” Haggerty says. “There used to be more ambivalence about moving people into housing without solving their other problems first. Now we know that people tend not to get better if they don’t have housing.”

But many local organizations don’t know how to pinpoint the chronic homeless. Among other things, Community Solutions mo­­bilizes volunteers to survey the homeless to determine who is likely to be on the streets long-term. These surveys take place between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. “If we can house 100,000,” says Jake Maguire ’07, who works for Haggerty at Community Solutions, “we’ll virtually wipe out this problem. A lifetime of homelessness doesn’t have to happen to people anymore.”

Photo by Rob Mattson