Common Ground: Cutting The Costs of Homelessness

One of my favorite panels of last week’s Social Enterprise Alliance World Summit featured Rosanne Haggerty of Common Ground.  Haggerty founded Common Ground in 1990 with the goal of ending homelessness.  Since then, the company has helped 4,200 people in the New York region overcome homelessness, and 95% of them still have homes.

Haggerty, a MacArthur and Ashoka Fellow, noticed that the cost to society of letting someone be homeless was high – $41,000/year/person. This accounts for the cost of jail, homeless outreach services, health care, etc.  She also noticed that getting housing was hard and involved a game not unlike chutes and ladders to come to a solution.

What I love about Haggerty’s approach is her interest in the root cause.  She noticed that unfortunate metrics clustered in the same neighborhoods. She noticed that millions of dollars were being spend on homeless shelters and emergency solutions.  “How can we re-purpose that money to help these families thrive?” she asked.

The first step Haggerty outlined is to get to know the homeless families and individuals as just that — families and individuals. Enumerate who the homeless people are.  Restore them with names and stories and rally communities around getting their needs met.  Haggerty and her team created a portrait of the most marginalized people in their community by surveying them between 4 am and 6 am. She then connected them with housing, and lastly provided support.  “The cure of housing and support works over 85% time,” Haggerty noted.

“Homelessness is a manifestation of system breakdowns,” Haggerty pointed out.  When our various systems  (mental health, housing, food, economic etc) fail, people end up homeless.

Common Ground’s solutions cost approximately $14,000/year or $36/night per person served.  Compare that to $54 for a city shelter bed, $74 for a state prison cell, $164 for a city jail cell, $467 for a psychiatric bed, and $1,185 for a hospital bed, according to the Common Ground website.

Homeless people have never been asked: “Can I help you find your own place?” That is exactly what Haggerty does.

Amie runs Cobblestone Solutions, LLC, a consultancy focusing on business development, marketing, communications and strategy for mission driven companies. Previously, Amie served as Director of Business Development for Viv (a Bay Area environmental start-up), Program Manager for Social Venture Technology Group (a boutique consulting firm focused on measuring social and environmental impact), and Associate Consultant at Bain & Co (a global management consulting firm). She is particularly interested in innovations that reduce waste, altering consumer behavior for good, and leveraging the power of business to solve the climate crisis. You can read more from her on her blog, on, and on JustMeans.

One response

  1. Honululu religious org proposed using mothaballed Navy ships as permanent homeless shelters. This probably takes an act of Congress. You can get the details in Google.
    This would work here in San Diego and the West Coast where there are numerous mothballed ships.

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