Community Engagement

A Scalable Model to Combat Homelessness

Everyone deserves a place to call home. At Wayfair, we’re partnering with Community Solutions to help make this possible. Here, we speak with Tim Richter, President & CEO of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, to hear how he was inspired by Community Solutions’ Built for Zero model to launch a movement to end homelessness in Canada.

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Tim Richter heard of Community Solutions when he started his career at the Calgary Homeless Foundation. In 2012, he founded the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness and in 2018 launched Built for Zero Canada, an initiative inspired by Community Solutions’ Built for Zero movement. Built for Zero Canada communities have housed over 10,000 people experiencing chronic homelessness since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here, he shares more about their work and impact.

Wayfair: Can you tell us about Built for Zero Canada and the work that you do?

TR: Built for Zero Canada stemmed from the Built for Zero model by Community Solutions. We take a coordinated community approach to end chronic and Veteran homelessness, just like Community Solutions does in the United States. This has allowed us to serve thirty-eight communities across Canada and two of our communities have reached functional zero, which means that they’ve successfully ended homelessness and sustained it.

Wayfair: Because of your success, do most Canadians have a strong understanding of Built for Zero and the movement to end homelessness?

TR: Recently, we had our first community achieve their goal of ending Veteran homelessness in London, Ontario and our first community that ended chronic homelessness in Medicine Hat, Alberta. Now that we’ve got a couple of proof points, I think there is increasing awareness. However, work still needs to be done to shift the narrative around homelessness from a problem we just have to accept to a solvable problem. We always hear, ‘Oh the problem is getting worse,’ or ‘It’s hopeless.’ Part of our work is to positively shift the narrative around homelessness to be, ‘Look, this is a solvable problem and here is a proven solution.’ The Built for Zero model has shown us how, at a community level, this can be done.

Manbir Sehmi

Wayfair: What is the greatest challenge you face in your work?

TR: A big challenge has been knowing and prioritizing what to do. For the longest time, the homeless system in Canada, and in the United States, reacted to the problem of homelessness with emergency responses like shelters. Then, we realized a lot of the homeless population struggled with mental health challenges, so we built mental health programs. And then we developed employment programs to help folks get jobs. Pretty soon, you have this built-up series of crisis responses that doesn’t solve the problem. What the Built for Zero model does really well is it helps us rethink that system and focus on achievable and sustainable permanent solutions. When you want to solve a problem and ask yourself, ‘What do I do?,’ Built for Zero provides that roadmap. Built for Zero leverages a structured, data-driven approach that walks communities through a step-by-step process to end homelessness. We are starting to see the results of that and communities just jumping at the opportunity to be part of it.

Wayfair: What’s it like for a community to reach a milestone in their work to end homelessness? What factors help communities achieve success?

TR: When a community starts to see their homeless numbers decline, they get really excited. Most communities will see impact quite early, but then they have to get to work to continue driving their reductions to functional zero. It’s not easy, but what gets folks over the finish line is that they’ve got a model to follow and a group of peers around to encourage, support, and coach them. Built for Zero and Community Solutions have created a unique model that leans on peer support. Nothing is more powerful than coming together with your community to achieve an accomplishment like ending homelessness. It’s a model that has made such an impact in communities across Canada.

Learn More About Wayfair & Community Solutions.