Getting Started

What does it mean to end homelessness? How can we measure progress on the ground?

These questions led our community engagement with communities across Canada over the past 3 years, as we explored the creation of a definition and measurement of an end to homelessness, with emphasis on the concept of “Functional Zero”.

Known as the Making Zero Count project, the work built on previous collaborative work between the COH, Calgary School of Public Policy and Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness (CAEH) in 2015.

What is Functional Zero?

Functional Zero, as defined by our project partner, Alina Turner (Turner Strategies, Calgary School of Public Policy) is when:

"A community where homelessness has become manageable in that the availability of services and resources match or exceed the demand for them from the target population. Further, such resources are optimized, performing as intended with maximum efficacy’’.

This definition was developed following an extensive literature review of 60 existing community plans to end homelessness and encompasses three dimensions:

  • Lived Experience – Individuals easily access supports and seamlessly integrate between systems to help prevent or end their experience of homelessness.
  • Homeless-Serving System – System partners meet family and individual client needs through operations optimization.  
  • Public Systems - Government and other public systems ensure adequate supports are in place across departments and policy areas to prevent and end homelessness through emphasis on housing stabilization.

With this said, through our community engagement, we learned that a definition to ending homelessness was not what communities needed or were asking for. Communities asked for help implementing an end to homelessness and systems planning was determined as the best way to accomplish that. As a result, we developed the Making Zero Count handbooks, which provides communities with the resources they may need to reduce systems-level barriers in their work towards preventing, reducing and ending homelessness.

Introducing The Making Zero Count Handbook

With that, we developed a series of resources that would support communities in their work of ending homelessness. Available on our new Homelessness Learning Hub, the Making Zero Count Handbook provides communities with resources to address specific barriers in their work to end homelessness. Each resource aligns with a dimension that may be used in a future framework and is based on feedback that we heard from communities. Three resources make up the Making Zero Count handbook:

1) User-Centred Design (Lived Experience Dimension)

This resource outlines each step in the process of developing a User Simulation Activity. This experiential activity helps participants gain empathy and challenges the subtle and subconscious beliefs and attitudes that reinforced stigmas for those experiencing homelessness. There are templates on building user profiles, interview guides, and writing and vetting stories.

Access the User-Centred Design Handbook

2) Service Coordination Resources (Homeless-Serving System Dimension)

In alignment with the Homeless-Serving System dimension, this handbook provides downloadable templates and other resources to facilitate greater coordination when multiple frontline workers from different agencies are working with a single person. Templates include a sample agenda, consent form and a service coordination agreement.

Access the Service Coordination Resources Handbook 

3) Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) Development Resources (Public Systems Dimension)

This resource provides strategies and tools for engaging public systems to develop stronger inter-system response. Templates include a sample infographic, an agenda, and a MOU template.

Access the MOU Development Resources Handbook 

Working Towards a Framework for Ending Homelessness

While we initially set out to refine a definition and measurement of an end to homelessness, we’ve used community input to lay the groundwork to create a framework for ending homelessness instead. Communities noted that a shift in how we think about homelessness is needed first and that this framework can, and should, continue to evolve as we develop stronger and stronger responses to homelessness in Canada. Check out the Making Zero Count handbooks on our new Homelessness Learning Hub!