Bright Spot: Why it’s a big deal 25 communities in Canada have By-Name Lists to end homelessness

July 29, 2021 / News
JULY 29, 2021 – 8:30 AM / BLOG

By-Name Lists are considered an integral part of ending homelessness, and that’s because building a system informed by data and individual need gets results. This blog is a part of our Bright Spot series highlighting outstanding work in ending homelessness happening across Canada.

Twenty-five communities across Canada have gone through a rigorous process to achieve quality By-Name Lists, which is one of the first significant steps toward transforming a system from managing homelessness, to ending it.

By-Name List is a real-time list of all known people experiencing homelessness in a community. It includes a robust set of data points that support Coordinated Access and prioritization at a household level and an understanding homeless inflow and outflow at a system level. This real-time, actionable data supports triage to services, system performance evaluation and advocacy for policies and resources necessary to end homelessness.

Through Built for Zero Canada and the CAEH Training & Technical Assistance program, the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness works with communities to develop By-Name Lists, and through a rigorous process the team confirms if a community has achieved one. It’s a tool that has proven essential because a problem you can’t see and don’t understand can’t be solved. That’s where real-time data comes in.

Data informs system improvements and measures progress. It provides a complete picture of who’s experiencing homelessness and where to find individuals. The data can be utilized to quantify exactly what housing resources and/or policy changes are needed to end homelessness for every person in a community.

It’s important to note that people are only added to a By-Name List once they have consented to have their name and other identifying information included on a list. Privacy and confidentiality are built into By-Name List processes. Personal information is protected and only shared when needed with community workers included on a community’s common consent form in service of helping people experiencing homelessness to find and retain housing.  

Having real-time information on all known people experiencing homelessness is required to measure reductions in homelessness, when a community has ended homelessness, and if they’re able to sustain it.

Essentially, a By-Name List puts people experiencing homelessness at the centre of a system. It provides the information and creates the accountability necessary for communities to move away from siloed programs to a coordinated system of care.

Built for Zero Canada uses this model thanks to the critical experience of one of its partners, Community Solutions. In 2010, the American-based improvement organization launched the 100,000 Homes Campaign, an initiative to house 100,000 people experiencing chronic homelessness. Communities across the country beat this goal by finding permanent homes for more than 105,000 people in four years. While communities dramatically increased their housing move-in rate (the number of folks they could house in a month), they didn’t see the same level of reduction in the number of people experiencing homelessness.

Community Solutions learned that communities would need to count down to zero, rather than simply counting up the number of people housed. So they developed the idea of a By-Name List to help communities account for everyone experiencing homelessness locally in partnership with local groups in the field and federal partners. In 2017, the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, through Built for Zero Canada, worked with Community Solutions to bring that model to Canada.

Since then, not only have 25 communities achieved a quality By-Name List, but now Built for Zero Canada communities such as Medicine Hat, AB has achieved functional zero chronic homelessness, and London, ON achieved functional zero veteran homelessness. Those achievements could never have been confirmed without By-Name Lists.

Built for Zero Canada community Durham Region, for one, recently rolled out a By-Name List  with community support. The team working to end homelessness shifted their mindset during the pandemic but remained housing-focused. They created a pilot with 5 community access points (3 in shelter and 2 in community hubs). They set target dates for achieving reliable data and achieved a quality By-Name List by October 2020. Fast forward to this summer, they’re now using data to drive reductions by reviewing the monthly inflow and outflow trends. They use this data to inform system changes to drive reductions, and then identify areas of need and advocate for resources specific to those needs. Learn more in their webinar by clicking here.

Kingston, another Built for Zero Canada community, achieved a quality By-Name List in September 2020 and it has been integral to prioritizing households for services, determining what step in the process each household is in, and identifying strengths and weaknesses in the system. Watch the webinar about Kingston’s By-Name List experience here.

Stratford-Perth-St. Marys is working toward what they call a paradigm shift where their homelessness service system is moving away from an emergency response approach and instead targeting prevention, housing and supports. The Built for Zero Canada community achieved a Quality By-Name List in fall 2019 with a focus on building trust, modelling the approach, and using an iterative process because complex social problems like homelessness are constantly evolving. On a monthly basis, the team gets updates from By-Name List access points and have meetings to discuss emerging issues, monitor improvements and housing trends. Every six months, they establish new improvement projects to work towards reducing and ending homelessness. Find out more by watching a By-Name List webinar here.

When By-Name Lists are operating with the most recent data, it can inform systemic change, enhance responses, and help communities build a system where the experience of homelessness becomes rare, brief and non-recurring.

Learn more about By-Name Lists at

This blog is a part of our Bright Spot series highlighting outstanding work in ending homelessness happening across Canada.

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