At Community Solutions, we think a lot about the eradication of smallpox.

The vaccine for the disease was introduced in 1796. But smallpox was not eradicated until 1980—more than 180 years later. Getting to zero required more than the vaccine. It required a global delivery system capable of administering the vaccine to everyone who needed it.

We have found that homes are to ending homelessness as vaccines are to preventing the spread of diseases: essential, but insufficient. Without an effective delivery system, the problem persists despite the availability of a cure.

We help communities push the boundaries of what is possible by helping them remove anonymity from homelessness and work differently together.

Through our Built for Zero initiative, we have helped establish community-wide teams with the shared goal of ending homelessness. These teams work together to develop a data-driven system that knows everyone experiencing homelessness by name, in real time. They strive to reach functional zero, a milestone for measurably ending homelessness for a population.

In Jacksonville, Florida, for example, leaders can see how long someone has been experiencing homelessness and if they have been connected to housing resources. That information helps leaders focus on the individuals needing additional support beyond those most able to find it.

The approach also allows communities to begin understanding and addressing other critical issues, like racial disparities in outcomes. By developing these systems, Jacksonville has reduced veteran homelessness by 33 percent.

The power of this data-driven system is profound. Ninety-three percent of communities in Built for Zero that have ended veteran or chronic homelessness have used this approach, without adding housing resources.

Read the full article about data and community engagement by Beth Sandor at MacArthur Foundation.