Becky Kanis, a former West Point cadet, now battles to get people off the streets. Her organization 100,000 Homes aims to house 100,000 homeless Americans, with 13,448 housed so far.
“People usually express admiration for me, like I’m some kind of hero. The truth is that I find my work incredibly rewarding and beautiful.”
Becky Kanis suspected there was a better way to approach the problem of chronic homelessness than traditional routes. Noticing the many hurdles other programs faced, she founded 100,000 Homes as a way to streamline the process and get more families into permanent homes.
Becky’s model involves four stages: building local teams, finding and clarifying the housing need, tapping local resources, and finally, matching the homeless with the housing. In the first stage, organizations partner with 100,000 Homes, then take to the streets registering as many homeless people as possible using what she calls a “Vulnerability Index." “Volunteers take note of those who are seniors, veterans, or who have severe medical conditions”, Becky explains, “In short, identifying those who are the most vulnerable and most in need of a home.”
Organizers then reach out to the appropriate authorities to obtain housing vouchers. The Veterans Affairs office provides housing vouchers to help veterans, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) helps seniors, and the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) helps those who are HIV+ or have AIDS, etc. The groups also tap non-traditional agencies like volunteers, student groups, faith groups, and local landlords who might assist with move-in kits or with private rental subsidies.
Taking people off the streets is its own reward, but there is also a very strong financial incentive. Treating all the medical expenses incurred by people living on the streets in San Diego alone cost in the ballpark of $23 million. Because homelessness aggravates many conditions, by putting these people in homes, the city could cut its medical bill by half — housing costs notwithstanding.
Although 100,000 homes is an ambitious goal, Becky remains undeterred. She says, “I wake up every day eager to dive into my work because I respect and appreciate my colleagues… and because it provides me the opportunity to be incredibly creative — to create the kind of community that I want to live in.” With her continued efforts, that community is closer than ever to reality.