I Found County Goals for Homelessness… Not Inspiring

There’s an old saying: if you shoot at nothing, you’ll hit it every time. That is why I have been beating the drum of setting a community-wide homelessness goal that is simple and focused on reducing the number of people who are homeless. This is a key discovered by the Built for Zero initiative, which has helped 14 communities achieve 0 homelessness for a given population and 42 others achieve significant reductions. 

They set an ambitious goal: 0 chronic or veteran homelessness. They measured and reported on their progress monthly. And they problem-solved for each individual until they got everyone off the streets. 

I would like to see Shasta County pursue a similar approach. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard anyone mention a specific goal that our community is aligned behind over the last 13 months. 

Last week, I finally found a goal buried in the Homeless Housing, Assistance and Prevention (HHAP) Round 4 Application Shasta County submitted on behalf of the NorCal Continuum of Care (COC) in fall 2022. The HHAP 4 application requires 7 goals, which I show below, but let’s start with the first and most important goal: number of people experiencing homelessness.

Our goal: 7.3% increase over 3 years. 119 more homeless people on the streets by June 30, 2025.

That may be a reduction in the growth of homelessness, as explained in the application, but I can’t imagine anyone in Shasta County would be excited to learn that increasing homelessness is our goal.

Here are our 7 goals:

While these goals feel uninspiring at best, maybe you’d argue that Shasta County and other COCs purposefully make their goals less ambitious to increase their odds of achieving them and as a result, to keep their funding. Let’s compare Shasta County’s goal 1 to the other COCs across the state:

Our NorCal COC is just better than the +8% average, showing that many other COCs have similarly uninspiring goals. Could that be part of the reason we’re getting such dismal results in California? You can see how our COC’s goals compare to other COCs’ goals below. Be warned: our goals look much worse relative to other COCs for most of the other 6 goals. 

I would propose that homelessness is not a housing problem. It’s not a mental health or a drug problem. It’s not a family trauma problem or economic problem. Well, yes, it’s all of those things, but even more than any of those dimensions, it’s a management problem. This is why homelessness counts keep growing year after year despite unprecedented investments in reducing them.

How do we fix the management problem?

  1. Goal: We need a compelling shared goal. Those working to address homelessness must know the goal and be aligned around it. How many homeless service providers do you think even know about the +7% goal?
  2. Measure: We need to track progress toward the goal in real time and use that information to refine our approach. 
  3. Accountability: We need to report on our progress toward the goal to the public on a regular basis.
  4. Levers: We need to identify a set of actions we can take to achieve that goal and track our execution of those actions.

These steps draw from the principles that have helped thousands of organizations achieve their goals, as described in Four Disciplines of Execution and the collective impact model.

I believe our County and COC are moving in this direction, which I’m excited to see and hear - because to continue to invest our taxpayer dollars in a challenge as complex as homelessness without good management practices in place would be irresponsible.

I am very optimistic we’ll begin to see significant reductions in homelessness due to the collective efforts of so many in this community. Let’s keep going!

 

How Our Goals Compare to Other COCs' Goals: