Bright Spot: Stratford-Perth-St. Marys reduces chronic homelessness by 10 per cent

June 22, 2023 / News

Earlier this year, as the calendar flipped from 2022 to 2023, the Built for Zero-Canada community of Stratford-Perth-St. Marys was actively planning to ring in the new year with a significant goal: reducing chronic homelessness.

By March, they did just that.

For three consecutive months, from December 2022 to February 2023, Stratford-Perth-St. Marys sustained a 10 per cent below baseline reduction in homelessness. And as of April, the community is still sustaining that milestone — sitting at a 17 per cent below baseline reduction.

“This work has been going on for a while,” said Grant Martin, Housing Stability Policy and Program Coordinator at the City of Stratford. “It really was about focusing on improvement projects that allowed us to make reductions.”

Specifically, Martin added, the reductions were made by helping service providers in their community realize the importance of housing folks quickly.

“We wanted to focus on the activities that put people in a position to be housed as quickly as possible,” Martin said.

But homelessness is not a static problem, and just because the community is celebrating and sustaining this milestone, they are not resting on their laurels.

These are the ways Stratford-Perth-St. Marys reduced homelessness, how they hope to carry that momentum throughout the rest of 2023, and what other communities can learn from this region’s latest triumph.

Stratford-Perth-St Marys set out a clear intention to have more people move into housing than move to inactive, which includes folks who were actively homeless but either lost contact with a coordinated access point or left the community for longer than 90 days. Setting a clear aim and actioning a clear path was critical for their success.

Keeping tabs on (in)activity

Focusing on inactivity was vital to the community because, in a normal year, they have more people who ‘move to inactive’ and then move into housing. Over the last 12 months, 63% of their outflow made-up of moved to inactive with the remaining 38% moved to housing.

Following that guiding principle, in all three of the months where Stratford-Perth-St Marys sustained 10 per cent below baseline, they increased positive exits, where more people were moved into housing and fewer people went to inactive because they couldn’t be located.

Stratford-Perth-St Marys implemented a cohesive plan to look out for people who may lose contact with housing supports, keep those folks engaged, and have their personal documents ready for when a housing provider is able to move them into housing.

The community also created a list of all the folks who are one month away from approaching inactive. That list is sent each month to all the connection centres and access points in the area to make sure that people still experiencing homelessness stay active on the By-Name List.

Increasing move-ins

In their three months of sustaining a 10 per cent below baseline reduction, Stratford-Perth-St. Marys increased their move-in rate dramatically.

Compared to their median monthly move-in rate of six, the community helped 11 people find housing in December, and eight in both January and February.

“We wanted to shift the focus to move-ins as opposed to ‘move to inactive’ and [show] how that continued contact would turn into more move ins and overall reduce that inactivity,” said John Ritz, the City of Stratford’s Homelessness and Housing Stability Supervisor.

It was a collective effort from all the members of the community — including the front-line outreach working group and health organizations — that helped people experiencing homelessness find a home.

But participating in BFZ-C’s Action-Oriented Case Conferencing Cohort (AOC3) was a significant factor in helping the community raise their move-ins as well.

AOC3 assisted BFZ-C communities to increase their move-ins and reduce homelessness by learning about and testing new case conferencing strategies. The Canadian AOC3 cohort was inspired by Built for Zero in the U.S., led by Community Solutions, where 85% of participating local BFZ teams saw an increase in their monthly housing move in rate. Check out the end of this blog for case conferencing resources.

Through monthly AOC3 calls from October 2022 to January 2023, the community set a goal to support two more people to move-in than they usually do, with eight move-ins in total between November and February. By the end of that period, Stratford-Perth-St. Marys was up to seven new move-ins.

“It was about getting staff that were part of access points to subscribe to that kind of solution-focused, action-oriented work,” Martin said. “[And] being good at making small scale tasks, specific, and achievable that we can measure and just keep moving forward.”

Although that number was one short of their AOC3 target, they accomplished four straight months of move-ins that were about their previous median, and higher than the number of people who moved to inactive in those months.

What’s next?

The Stratford-Perth-St. Marys team are setting their ambitions high for the remainder of the year. Following their 10 per cent reduction, the community is hoping to further reduce homelessness by 25 per cent below baseline by September 30.

The southwestern Ontario community is constantly looking to test improvements to their moved to inactive strategy, with the hope of continuing to reduce the number of people who lose connection with their services.

Next, they are hoping to increase their prevention efforts by preventing one more person from flowing into chronic homelessness compared to what they have done in the past. They are also focusing on moving in a handful of folks who are experiencing complex chronic homelessness, by partnering with local health and justice sectors.

For other communities looking to replicate their success, Ritz said that they should trust their data and have a clear and measurable purpose on what they are trying to achieve.

“Listen to your data,” Ritz said. “Your data is going to show and direct you to what is working, what isn’t working, and what direction you need to be taking from that point.”

Check out these Action-Oriented Case Conferencing Resources:

Action-Oriented Case Conferencing Overview (ON BNL CoP Call, BFZ-C, Jan 2023)

What is Action-Oriented Case Conferencing? (Blog, Community Solutions, Dec 2020)

Case Conferencing Tool Bank (Webpage, Community Solutions Built for Zero, 2020)

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