What is functional zero homelessness?

You may have heard a new phrase in Wichita about ending homelessness through the functional zero model. So what is it, how does it work and can it be used to solve homelessness in Kansas?

We had Cole Schnieders, United Way Continuum of Care Planning Manager, help answer some of the common questions regarding the functional zero model.

Q: What is functional zero homelessness?

A: Functional zero homelessness is a benchmark and methodology used by communities to effectively end homelessness by making homelessness rare and brief. At its core, it means the number of people experiencing homelessness never exceeds the community’s capacity to move people into permanent housing. It requires a community to maintain quality, real-time data on all persons experiencing homelessness and their need, often called a by-name list. Functional zero is both a one-time metric, and a metric that needs to be re-achieved, usually on a month-to-month basis as local conditions, such as the housing market, change.

Q: How is functional zero homelessness different from traditional approaches to addressing homelessness?

A: Traditional approaches to homelessness focus on managing the problem through shelters, soup kitchens, and other short-term interventions. Functional zero homelessness, on the other hand, aims to permanently end homelessness by implementing a systematic approach that prioritizes diversion, prevention, and interventions to address homelessness quickly and effectively when it occurs. This systemic approach combines the efforts of nonprofits, local government, and community stakeholders who all want to end homelessness.

An Impact ICT partner works with an individual experiencing homelessness.
Q: What does functional zero homelessness look like?

A: It looks like a full community coming together to make homelessness as short as possible for the people experiencing it. It looks like giving customized help to each person based on what they need to be successful in permanent housing. It looks like neighbors helping neighbors meet a basic need: housing. It doesn’t mean that no one will be homeless again in Sedgwick County, but it does mean that homelessness will be rare, and when it occurs, brief.

Q: What are the key components of a functional zero homelessness approach?

A: A functional zero homelessness approach typically involves a community-wide system of diversion, prevention, assessment, prioritization, housing placement, and support services, all working together to ensure that people experiencing homelessness are quickly identified and connected to appropriate resources and housing solutions.

Q: Is functional zero homelessness achievable?

A: While achieving functional zero homelessness is a challenging and complex process, many communities have successfully implemented this approach and significantly reduced their homeless populations. It requires collaboration and commitment from a wide range of stakeholders, including government agencies, nonprofit organizations, service providers, and the community at large.

 Q: What are some successful examples of functional zero homelessness in practice?

A: Several communities in the United States, like Bergen County, New Jersey, have made significant progress towards functional zero homelessness by implementing coordinated and data-driven approaches to addressing the issue. These communities have demonstrated that functional zero homelessness is achievable with the right strategies and resources in place.


With continued and growing interest in solving homelessness in Wichita and Sedgwick County, we want to make sure that when you have all the tools needed to help. Here are some definitions for terms you may hear mentioned in meetings.

  • Case Conferencing: A process where case managers use information about a client, including their Vulnerability Index- Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool (VI-SPDAT) score, level of need, and document-readiness to match them to the next possible housing resource. VI-SPDAT is defined below. 
  • Chronically Homeless: A person with a documented disability who has been homeless for over a year or who has been homeless for 12 months in the last three years.
  • Continuum of Care: The Continuum of Care (CoC) Program is designed to promote community-wide commitment to the goal of ending homelessness; provide funding for efforts by nonprofit providers, and state and local governments to quickly rehouse homeless individuals and families while minimizing the trauma and dislocation caused to homeless individuals, families, and communities by homelessness; promote access to and effect utilization of mainstream programs by homeless individuals and families; and optimize self-sufficiency among individuals and families experiencing homelessness. Check unitedwayplains.org/impactict for more information.
United Way Housing Navigator Jaraya Reynolds works with an individual experiencing homelessness.
  • Coordinated Entry: Coordinated Entry is the system by which persons experiencing homelessness are queued up for housing resources based on needed level of care and rental assistance, length of time homeless, and belonging to any special populations like veterans or chronically homeless persons.
  • Homeless Management Information System (HMIS): A web-based software application designed to record and store person-level information regarding the service needs and history of households experiencing homelessness throughout a Continuum of Care (CoC) jurisdiction, as mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
  • Housing Navigator: This is a person knowledgeable in area resources who can connect someone experiencing homelessness to housing. In a one-on-one environment, the housing navigator will work with a client, assessing needs and barriers, and locate resources to find a home for the client.
  • Permanent Supportive Housing: Some homeless households require support to maintain housing stability. Services are individualized and targeted based on the housing stability plan. Programs and services may be available on or offsite and the tenant holds a rental agreement. These households require high to medium level of assistance.
  • Quality By-Name List: A dynamically sortable list of everyone in the community experiencing homelessness by name and by need, often assigned by VI-SPDAT and during case conferencing.
  • Rapid ReHousing: A type of housing assistance that provides housing identification, move-in and rental assistance, and/or case management.
  • VI-SPDAT (Vulnerability Index- Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool): An assessment tool developed and owned by OrgCode and Community Solutions that is utilized for single individuals, including veterans, to recommend the level of housing supports necessary to resolve the presenting crisis of homelessness. Within those recommended housing interventions, the VI-SPDAT allows for prioritization based on presence of vulnerability.


Published On: February 22, 2023Tags:


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