What does it mean to end youth and young adult homelessness? In the Anchor Community Initiative, we define ending youth and young adult homelessness as reaching functional zero – a state where a community’s youth and young adult homelessness system has the capacity to house every young person experiencing homelessness each month.
Exact definitions for functional zero are tailored to local communities and to specific populations. For example, reaching functional zero for youth and young adults looks different from reaching functional zero for chronic homelessness. Generally, definitions of functional zero call for communities to have enough housing, services, and shelter beds for everyone in the community who needs support. Common goals include increasing permanent housing, reducing, or eliminating unsheltered homelessness, decreasing returns to the homelessness system, and reducing the length of time that people experience homelessness.
The United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) provides benchmarks for ending youth and young adult homelessness. The Anchor Community Initiative’s functional zero measures are based on these benchmarks, with the addition of equity measures. We believe that communities cannot achieve an end to youth homelessness without also ending disproportionality.
Disproportionality means that young BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folx experience homelessness at higher rates than their white, heterosexual, cisgender peers. For example, in our 2018 landscape scan we found that while 4% of the population in Washington state is Black, Black young people represented 24% of youth in the homeless system. Aside from experiencing higher rates of homelessness, these young people also experience systemic and institutional racism, resulting in lower rates of placements into permanent housing, a higher rate of returns to homelessness, and longer time experiencing homelessness compared to their peers.
Our definition of functional zero takes these disparities into account. To get to functional zero, Anchor Communities must ensure that young BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folx:
- Return to homelessness at equal or lower rate than their peers
- Are housed at the same or higher rate than their peers
- Spend equal or less time experiencing homelessness than their peers
Coaching our Anchor Communities to these functional zero and zero disproportionality measures keeps racial and LGBTQ+ equity embedded into the core of our work. Achieving these outcomes requires Anchor Communities to consider the impact to young BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folx in their reduction strategies and improvement projects. This approach helps team members identify and address the root causes of disproportionality and inequitable outcomes, helping us create a world where homelessness can truly be eradicated.