How Adelaide plans to reach ‘zero homelessness’ within two years

By Harley Dennett

February 22, 2018

South Australia might be in the middle of a state election campaign, but the business of making a positive impact for the community hasn’t stopped. A coalition of more than 30 organisations including three SA government departments and the City of Adelaide have agreed on an implementation plan to tackle the city’s homelessness.

The implementation plan, signed today by politicians of all stripes, has an ambitious target: functional zero homelessness by 2020.

The key word here is ‘functional’:

“A community reaches Functional Zero when the average capacity of its housing system is greater than the existing need and this can be proven with data. Functional Zero will be reached in Adelaide when the number of people sleeping rough at any point in time, is no greater than the average housing placement rate for that same period (usually a month).

“Reaching Functional Zero does not means that there will be no one sleeping on the streets. In some circumstances, people may see sleeping rough as the least worst option available to them. Functional Zero also does not mean that there will be no one on the streets who is hungry or unwell. Functional Zero is a sustainable measure of success in supporting people sleeping rough into secure housing. Other changes to the way our society and economy work are needed to achieve zero poverty in our city.”

About 120 people are sleeping rough on any given night in Adelaide’s CBD.

How the plan was hatched

A movement, coordinated by the Don Dunstan Foundation, has been building in Adelaide to be the first city outside the United States to commit to implementing a program called Project Zero. The program has been implemented in 75 US communities, and of those, seven have achieved functional zero homelessness for veterans, and three communities for chronically homeless people.

Some might look at that as rather poor odds of success, but the program is still young.

It took Bergen County in New Jersey a decade to be credited and certified by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and Community Solutions with being the first county in the US to measurably and sustainably end chronic homelessness.

Chronic homelessness population by housing situation in Bergen County US, January 2012-2017.

Those records start at 2012, but the factors contributing to its success started as far back to 2007 — with a Housing First Approach where people who were declined access to shelter because of behavioural, mental drug or alcohol issues were prioritised for shelter and housing.

Other factors attributed to Bergen County’s success include identifying ways to create real-time data and a coordinated assessment criteria so those most in need get accommodation while other options are found for those less in need.

The city built a one-stop shop (command centre) for services, replacing sub-standard shelters, and co-locating multiple housing and service providers in the same building, as well as accommodating the people needing assistance. Every plays by the same set of rules: “groups committed to assess people using the same coordinated assessment tool and prioritise resources according to a shared set of criteria.”

The public housing authority was also an participant, allocating 20% of housing vouchers to homeless people when they became available.

In traditional South Australian style, those seeking to replicate Bergen County’s success turned to a rapid design process (aka a 90-day project) to come up with a plan that could work in local conditions.

Making it happen

Adelaide Zero’s implementation plan is particularly NGO-driven, by with buy-in from government. It isn’t focussed on crisis accommodation.

  • Hutt Street Centre to run a Connections Week to confirm the names of all the people sleeping rough on any given night in Adelaide’s CBD.
  • Neami National to establish and maintain a ‘by name list’ of every person sleeping rough throughout the year.
  • Don Dunstan Foundation to develop an online Dashboard to track the number of people sleeping rough and those moved to secure housing.
  • Anglicare SA to develop an Aligned Housing Plan to ensure housing is prioritised for people on the ‘by name list’.
  • City of Adelaide to form a Business Alliance to End Homelessness.
  • End Homelessness SA to develop a Charter that can be signed on to by project partners, community organisations, businesses and individuals wanting to demonstrate their commitment to the Adelaide Zero Project.
  • Don Dunstan Foundation to establish a number of Solutions Labs to provide a platform for those with lived experience, concerned citizens and relevant community organisations to share their knowledge about any ongoing problems the sector continues to face and how together innovative solutions can be developed.

In addition to the local council, three SA departments — the Department for Communities and Social Inclusion, Department of the Premier and Cabinet, and the Department for Correctional Services — are signed up to support.

The Don Dunstan Foundation’s Executive Director David Pearson says the 2020 commitment follows extensive consultation to set an achievable and sustainable goal:

“We will also be doing more work so that we can better respond to the needs of homelessness among Aboriginal people in Adelaide’s CBD,” Pearson said.

“We live in the fifth most liveable city in the world, and it is simply unacceptable that too many of our fellow citizens have nowhere to live – the Zero Project is our collective response to say ‘no more’.”


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