Less than a decade ago, more than 700 people were homeless in the small, 150,000 person city of Rockford, Illinois, about 90 miles northwest of Chicago. By the end of the year, the city expects that number will have shrunk to essentially zero—making it the first community in the U.S. to end homelessness.
In 2018, the city became the first in the country to reach a goal of “functional zero” for veteran homelessness, meaning that at any given time, while a veteran may become homeless, it’s rare, and they quickly find housing. It became the second city to reach the same goal for people who are chronically homeless—those who have been homeless for long periods of time and have a diagnosed disability.
To end homelessness for the rest of its population, Rockford is using a novel program that treats each homeless person as their own unique case, with unique solutions. Community Solutions, the organization leading this program, works by going through the entire list of homeless people in Rockford, name by name, and then figures out how each person could be helped and how quickly it could happen.
The solutions can truly differ from one case to the next. For instance, a coordinator might realize that the best way to stay in contact with homeless youth is through non-official means such as via Facebook Messenger. In another case, a coordinator only managed to convince a chronically homeless man to move into a residency hotel by telling him that it had a TV and he’d be able to watch the Cubs play baseball.
All in all, Rockford’s staunch efforts to end homelessness are something cities across America can learn from.