In Portland, Ore., 1,560 chronically homeless individuals left the street between 2005 and 2008 — representing a dramatic 70 percent reduction in the city’s popu- lation. This paper, which was written by Erik Sten, a Portland city commissioner from 1996 to 2008 and one of the main architects of that shift, seeks to explain how the city achieved such extraordinary success.
When the Bush Administration required cities to produce a “10 Year Plan to End Homelessness” based on a blueprint produced in 2000 by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, Sten and his staff were cynical about the Bush mandate. The mandate was given at the same time that the administration was cutting aid to cities. However, based in part by the credible source of the information, Sten and his colleagues set out to see if they could rethink their approach and create real change.
The first step in what became a plan known as “Home Again,” was to listen to the homeless. They commissioned a local nonprofit organization to do extensive oral interviews with 600 people who had experienced homelessness. This led to the discovery that what had been missing in their policies was a human connection between the chronically homeless and the public. So Homeless Connect, which revolved around events during which homeless people could interact with volunteers and get everything from links to counseling to family photographs, was created.