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Why Houses Cost Less than Homelessness

Rosanne Haggerty is a busy woman. The 40-something, Macarthur Genius and Founder of the non-profit Common Ground has a campaign to run. Her goal?...

Rosanne Haggerty is a busy woman. The 40-something, Macarthur Genius and Founder of the non-profit Common Ground has a campaign to run. Her goal? House 100,000 homeless in the next three years. She founded her non-profit Common Ground in 1990 and pioneered a new model of well designed, community focused, affordable housing. Haggerty has showed that offering a permanent solution to homelessness is more cost effective than stop gap, short-term measures. This year, Common Ground will share their lessons of the last two decades with partner organizations across the country. I talked with Rosanne about her new campaign and Times Square in the 90s.

Your first project (in 1990) was in Times Square. For those of us who don’t remember it then, it was a very different place. Why start there?

Times Square has come a long way in the last 20 years since it was synonymous with urban blight and was a center of street homelessness. The immediate occasion for starting Common Ground was the situation in Times Square Hotel on 43rd Street and 8th Avenue. In 1990 it was a wreck and in bankruptcy, but it was an important building to save. For years, it had modest housing for single adults of modest means until poor management ran it into the ground. In starting Common Ground, the goal was stable affordable housing linked to help with health, mental health and employment assistance. Saving Times Square in this way also demonstrated that often a community’s troubled assets–a run down building, an empty lot–can provide solutions to other community needs.

The Times Square project was groundbreaking in a lot of ways and since then you’ve convinced a lot of smart people and communities that it’s better to provide housing for the homeless than leave them on the streets. How did you do that?

We show communities that it’s not just morally or clinically right, but it’s also less expensive to solve homelessness than to manage it. We show how to identify patterns of homelessness and how to create sustainable housing options for less than what they’ve been spending on shelters, hospitals, jails and other band-aids that don’t solve the problem. It’s really about the data.

Your new campaign aims to house the most vulnerable 100,000 homeless people in the US. Is this an achievable goal?

Completely. Communities spend far more to help homeless people survive than it would cost to end homelessness. Communities willing to work on getting people housed instead of letting the homeless drift between shelters, hospitals and jails can solve homelessness. The 100,000 Homes campaign is putting this practical approach to work in communities throughout the country, with a focus on enlisting the 50 communities with the greatest number of homeless persons. We find communities that are excited and eager to work on solutions and eager to have access to the new tools that we’ve developed.

What does a community mean for someone who has been without it for so long?

Homeless people are desperate for a sense of community, for the experience of belonging. You’d be amazed at how quickly people who have been out on the street for years adapt to their new homes and seize the opportunities to rebuild their lives.

Photo courtesy of Common Ground

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