When Bend City Councilors Anthony Broadman and Megan Perkins recently asked the Deschutes County Commission to create a joint office to end homeless, they highlighted Rockford, Illinois.
Rockford, a city of about 150,000, got national attention in 2016 because it achieved “functional zero” for homeless veterans. That meant that the number of homeless veterans was no greater than the monthly housing placement for the homeless. And Rockford has continued to get accolades for its progress in reducing chronic and youth homelessness.
What could Bend learn from Rockford?
Bend is not Rockford. Finding places to house the homeless can be a challenge in Rockford. People with plenty of money can struggle to find housing of any type in Bend. And Rockford’s success doesn’t mean that its broader area has no homeless. The total number of homeless can still exceed the capacity to shelter them. But across the country, communities like Rockford have had success in measurable reductions in homelessness. They are better at making homelessness brief and rare.
There are critical steps that Bend and the county have not taken. The community needs one office clearly responsible for managing and coordinating homeless efforts. That’s the smart move Broadman and Perkins were calling for. Bend and the county do have many nonprofits, volunteers, government staff and groups committed to working toward the problem, but the clear leadership is not there.
The ultimate measure of performance of any of the nonprofits or government agencies must also be to reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness. Receiving grants is good. Expanding programs to serve the homeless is good. New facilities are good. But unless there is an actual reduction in the number of homeless, they are not achieving the goal.
The annual homeless count in the area is useful, but it is ultimately flawed. Individual homeless people must be known by name. Their individual issues and challenges must be understood. They must be tracked as individuals. That’s the only way the community can know if its efforts are working and where they may need to be adjusted.
We can’t adequately summarize what has worked in Rockford or in other communities in a brief editorial. None of this will be new to the region’s providers of homeless services. Broadman and Perkins are right to ask the county for help to create a joint office. When could it start? Who will pay for it? Without changing the way this community takes on homelessness, it will never be brief nor rare.