What is Functional Zero?

Imagine rough sleeping on the streets of Melbourne for a few weeks.

Do you know where or who you could go to for help? A meal? Somewhere to charge your phone? Someone who can dispense the medication you need? What about finding somewhere to stay that night?

And on it goes.

But what about, instead, it’s the responsibility of services and people who can help to find YOU.

It’s up to them to find out what physical and mental health support you need. It’s their job to figure out where you can stay and to make sure you are being prioritised as you’re in a very vulnerable situation.

They’re going to pull all the strings they need to in order to make the system work for you and make sure you get the support you need to move into a long-term home. And ultimately, this approach is going to help others in the same situation across Melbourne.

Sounds much better, doesn’t it?

There’s a model that functions much more like the second scenario. It’s called Functional Zero.

Functional Zero

If the number of people getting safe and secure housing exceeds the number of people experiencing homelessness, then we reach Functional Zero.

It is a way of ending rough sleeping by flipping the usual relationship between people rough sleeping and the services that can help on its head. This is how you end homelessness.

Instead of requiring people who are rough sleeping to navigate complex and demanding systems, Functional Zero requires that these systems pull together and collaborate amongst themselves to get results for the people who need it.

Functional Zero can start with localised steps to ending homelessness through local service collaboration, building on local knowledge and local partnerships to develop models which can be shared and replicated across multiple geographies, and with different cohorts of the homeless population.

By-Name List

The first step to achieving Functional Zero is through the creation of a By-Name List (BNL)—a real-time list of all people experiencing homelessness in an area.

To enable Functional Zero across Melbourne, hospitals, social workers, local government, housing providers, and charities all need to come together and develop, maintain and work from the one list of people who are experiencing rough sleeping in a given geographical area.

With consent, rough sleepers’ names and information are listed on the BNL. The list has helped some of the most vulnerable move off the streets into safe homes.

We’re pretty excited to have started the first BNL in Victoria. They’ve been used successfully in Adelaide and Brisbane before now, as well as overseas in places like Canada and the USA where the method was pioneered. In fact, our work with Port Phillip Council has been recognised as only the third community outside of North America to achieve a ‘quality by-name list’.

To end rough sleeping in Melbourne – to reach Melbourne Zero – we’re going to need a robust By-Name List too. In the wake of COVID-19 we’ve had the opportunity to create a BNL out of necessity as we and our partners have engaged with people going into emergency accommodation.

The End Goal: Melbourne Zero

We would ideally only want people leaving the BNL because they’ve moved into a long-term, safe, and affordable home.

A key reason people stay on the List, and don’t move into safe and secure homes, is that there simply aren’t enough homes in Victoria that people on low incomes can afford. If 10 homes are available and 50 people need homes, 40 people are going to remain without a home, no matter how hard everyone tries to house them.

If we’re going to keep placing people on the list, keep making sure they get the support they need, and expand the list into new areas to reach more people, we’re going to need more services and local governments across metropolitan Melbourne to join us in implementing Functional Zero.