Revisionist History presents Solvable, a new show from Pushkin Industries and the Rockefeller Foundation that showcases the world’s most innovative thinkers and their ideas about how to solve the world’s most daunting problems. The interviews, conducted by journalists like Malcolm Gladwell and Jacob Weisberg, dive into the complexity of issues like maternal mortality, food waste, and viral disinformation, while inspiring hope that such immense problems are, in fact, solvable.

In episode one, Malcolm Gladwell talks to Rosanne Haggerty about ending homelessness for everyone. Forever.
United States


00:00:00hello revisionist history listeners it's Malcolm Gladwell we are just a few weeks away from the launch of season 4 of revisionist History patience Grasshopper but now that I have your attention I wanted to tell you about something else long ago the folks at the Rockefeller Foundation came to us at Pushkin Industries and asked us if we wanted to collaborate on a podcast series called solvable a series of interviews with some of the world's biggest thinkers working to solve the world's biggest problems we love the idea there's so much gloom and doom in the news these days that it's easy to forget there is real progress happening in the world that there is reason to be hopeful and things that had one seemed unsolvable are now increasingly solvable
00:00:51the solvable series will have more than two dozen episodes in its first season the host will be made Higgins I will be one of the people doing interviews along with an apple bomb Ahmed Akbar and my co-founder of Pushkin Jacob Weisberg
00:01:10please sign up for ever you get your podcast just search for solvable
00:01:16in the meantime I wanted to give all of you a loyal revisionist history listeners a sneak peek at the first of our solvable interviews I did it with someone I have known for over 20 years Rosanne Haggerty she's at the Forefront of the surprisingly successful fight against homelessness when I first met Roseanne back in the 1990's I didn't believe her when she said she thought, this could be solved now I do
00:01:46a significant that in 1982 the problem of homelessness in New York City was a very a relatively small scale it was scrolling it was terrible for people experiencing it but it was possible to believe is a young person that this is an entirely containable and solvable problem no one had good information there but the estimates were maybe three thousand people city of pushing 8 million My overall impression was we're asking the wrong questions I remember
00:02:22thinking there was this huge disconnect between what are ideas were that the people responsible for identifying or naming the problem and what the young people are the women were saying these young people were looking for help with finding a place to live finding a job and my instructions as a volunteer was how to turn on the coffee and put away the cots in the morning no one had given us any information about how to help people connect with the things they needed it so is that sense of Disconnect instead of the gap between the people experiencing the problem we're seeking and what we were set up to provide that I think really plunged me into this work permanently that man there is a sense of we're coming about this and in a way that doesn't match the nature of the problem talk to me about housing for the obvious to us if you ask me naively I would have said the opposite you need to get people
00:03:22you know their mental health issues addressed their employment dealt with their family life straightened out before you got them stabilized and housing and you sit in this idea is the opposite of that housing first housing first has become a hugely important principle but still not completely and fully adopted but think of it this is something we all know how are we going to accomplish anything in our lives mail hold a job maintain stable relationships manager hell that we don't have a stable place to live this notion of stable housing is just so basic but in fact it for many years it became inverted as you say Malcolm where and there's a sense of people needed to have insight into their mental illness or needed to be clean and sober needed this needed that housing was conditional on on behavior and in fact people's other conditions they vastly improve and once there's a stable environment for them to live in into man
00:04:22is there other needs from and the fact that this still is contested is is one of the things that really needs to be challenged everywhere you'll still find places where I go let's study it one more time but in fact it's something that we all know imagine our lives without a stable place to live with his argument in third is the question of tools and I realize that tools is the new on the really interesting that you've gotten very involved in but just talked about this resources question because the Second Great impediment to communities addressing your homelessness issue is the notion that it will bankrupt them command and you're actually a character in this story is that communities are spending a fortune not solving the problem of homelessness they cost are showing up typically and most profoundly in the Healthcare System but also in the criminal justice system and when you look
00:05:22at dump across communities that the burden of this unresolved solvable problem on communities is profound ask any library in the country neemt any police officer and he court officer are public work for teachers dealing with children who are living in shelters the emergency room nurses you are just go down the list of our public work for us and the degree to which their jobs are consumed trying to respond in a humane way to those in a situation that is itself soluble so the costs are spread all over the place and yet communities I think seeing a mailing to build housing or to subsidize it or attach metal Health Resources we can't afford to do this but you are paying these cost anyway and creating an environment of everyone losing as well as trapping
00:06:22individuals and families in the state of limbo which is so much more humanely and efficiently addressed with just dealing with getting them into a stable housing situation to this proposition that homelessness is more expensive to ignore than it is to solve tell me why that's a what's hard about making that argument
00:06:45well let me go back to the point of your being a character in the drama Malcolm you who wrote a really Seminole piece in the New Yorker called million-dollar Murray and explored through the life of this one too if iconic figure in Reno Nevada it was known to everyone this individual who needed someone to basically take responsibility for seeing that his rent was paid and that he had some structure in his life and counseling support he needed when he needed at that he was actually doing well with just a basic structure of participating in any program for want of that kind of coordination and accountability this poor man bounced in and out of the emergency room rehab programs that court system jails running up a bill of over $1000000 in Municipal Services over the. Of time before his premature death and so it's it's because
00:07:45one sees the picture hole on homelessness were allowed to think that this is actually you have a kind of a marginal or a low-cost problem or dwell in the myths that these are individuals who are making a choice to opt out of of society or services and in fact what we found is someone taking responsibility for seeing that each person who is in this overwhelmed State actually has a stable place to live in enough structure and support in our lives cost a fraction of what all of this diffuse misery and Municipal Burton actually ends up costing but it's getting to that point where everyone is accounted for and everyone has a plan and the thing that we have discovered in our work with many communities around the country is that it's very possible to get there that didn't know Community even communities that feel overwhelmed by homelessness is the number of those experiencing homelessness more than a fracture
00:08:451% of their population this is a total Last Mile problem and if we grab the picture hole and have that community-level accountability we find that there many more assets many more solution than communities have ever imagined I'm trying to get a sense of the level of kind of Baseline resistance to these arguments you're making are you saying that this is a tough sell I'll say where the resistance typically comes from that it's the leadership Gap that that person who or a group of people who are well-positioned to basically call it out that they are blocked from doing that for whatever reason they don't feel they have the political support there are internal conflicts I did not tell him the phrase the homeless industrial complex but as in so many areas of failure frankly in terms of our Civic life you are as an organization or an age
00:09:45she rewarded for maintaining the status quo so there's resistance for reasons of leadership inertia steer about what will happen to my organization or my job at the agency and there's also just in larger cities still this myth of the overwhelming nature of the problem and that's the way the problem is reported typically bad getting worse we've done media scans to look at where are the solutions stories on homelessness and I would say community Solutions in our communities we're working with we're seeing these profound ships we have a job to do on Communications that I think this is part of what needs to happen next that there are these communities that are now solving the problem of ended chronic or veteran homelessness are seeing steady month-over-month reductions but we are still in a world that is
00:10:45convinced that this is not a solvable problem despite the evidence but with with no clear end game tools that allow you to see the problem so you talkin about right do you need to be able to see this problem how does one go about visualizing in real-time the problem of homelessness in a given Community what we have found is the real breakthrough moment and we learn this with our communities we've been working this problem a long time now and it was realizing that you need by name real time information on who is experiencing homelessness in the community and how now homelessness we've come to see it's like saying we've got a sickness issue in our community it tells you nothing you need to know exactly how and what was their family break-up issue last night that needs some quick intervention and repair or is there a chronic mental health problem and you've been on the street for 30 years totally different conditions
00:11:45different groups of people to collaborate and respond and often organizations that have not a whole lot to do with almost no violence you can say it's it's Medicaid you know that these other failure show up in homelessness in if no one's asking the right questions then you are the problem just compounds and so the first step we discovered is helping communities develop quality data that means you basically need to know with a very high degree of reliability are you accounting for everyone and so that means that you need to have in the room all of the Outreach team names the soup kitchens the shelter's everyone in the community who is touching a problem needs to basically share information on who they're working with and get signed releases from those individuals and families so that they can be helped to get out of the situation or avoid it altogether getting to a point where you know in real-time what's actually happening and how the problem is moving and changing because
00:12:45that very highly specific information will allow you to see where your housing placement rate needs to be increased where you have problems with certain agencies are certain conditions are certain events in your communities that are creating incidence of homelessness and in that context of having the full picture and being able to see the chefs communities can be trained and have been trained to use quality improvement human centered design how you desila take meetings across different sectors basically how you keep coming back to that shared goal are we reducing and getting closer to 0 walkthrough example I am the mayor of a
00:13:30city of 250,000 in Ohio has problem I'll call you up question everyone if I have none of these systems in place
00:13:42do I know how many homeless people I have probably not you probably are relying on your annual point-in-time count that is mandated by Hud and that's a test an estimate we have found it's wildly off on a general basis when you can stare off by 240% so like you really don't know what's going on but you had that snapped off just because this population is so transitory and hard to find and well there are various methodologies edible except as an acceptable way of getting to an estimate so there's great variability in that and then there's a coverage issue typically communities don't have in one night the ability to really understand fully what's going on and then as you point out there's the variability just what's happening on your one day is not what's happening across the course of a year is someone has a snapshot is the wrong method
00:14:42I need a video to understand what's going on with with Elmo says that you're probably the best information you've got is wildly wrong plus or minus and then the second thing that point in time count tells you nothing that's actionable it doesn't tell you who in that population you think you have that is experiencing homelessness actually has a one-night problem versus a 30-year problem and so you have no idea like who's going to correct the problem themselves which is the principal way people escaped homelessness by the way they shorted out vs. who were going to need to actively intervene to help and had to get everybody around the same table in order to accomplish that here's the people that you need to bring to the first meeting you need the Coalition of not-for-profits it's receiving money from HUD you need to have your housing authority and you need your local VA Medical Center Director get those folks in a rum and that's the starting point there the core team and it's that group that has to commit to solving the same
00:15:42problem like we're all here to actually get to an N state which is 0 which is there I don't have chronic homelessness when you say collect data on this so you need to know one's name you need to have a medical history a background
00:16:01profile at me correct most communities are using of a common assessment tool now I think they're about two hundred least 200 meters are we using an assessment pool that basically gets your identity but also self-reported medical conditions that correlate with what we know about premature death of homelessness has more lethal condition than than most cancers frankly and also that some of the critical information that can allow a community to help match you with resources that can enable you to escape homeless do you have a history of being in the foster care system are you over the age of 60 or 65 and therefore qualify for senior housing program Sprint's are you are you someone who's a veteran that information already surfaces for communities more than what they had to go on and turn to the range of housing resources they already have access to that maybe you're not fully deployed or efficiently match two people who would qualify for them and see
00:17:01what's that basic information LinkedIn page for the that's a good way of thinking about the names and backgrounds of your homeless population and then you'll have to create this kind of video as opposed to a snapshot what do I learn from my video how much movement is there in this video that you're creating what you will see in movies that have this quality by name data is every month at the very least often every week or every day you'll see how many individuals are moving out of homelessness who has been directly assisted housed in a variety of ways first month's rent security deposit or we reconnected do with family or we've matched you to Housing Resource how many people have been paused how many people that you have had in your system since you first had that quality date established who just got off the radar
00:18:01remain on Cullen inactive list but did that accounts for the first time for the speedometer on that all of us who've been doing this work have always understood that most people who experience homelessness resolve it themselves and so at least by moving people to you're still aware of them but you're not like holding a voucher for them you're not like jamming up a waiting list thinking where are they the Assumption become they have self resolved but they come back and they don't lose their place if something else has happened and so on you have outflow information to show how you're performing in a ratcheting up your house placements and the effectiveness of your matching system and then on the inflow side you're looking at who is new into homelessness this month or this week who has returned to homelessness who assisted in the past and who have we seen come back from that inactive list four examples
00:19:01example and tell me what it's realistic you come to me and you say Malcolm in u-city you looked remove we we've discovered huge percentage of your homeless population is disabled vets that is a great example to unpack friends since throughout the country and it's been a commitment of the VA since 2010 to end veteran homelessness there are sufficient resources allocated to house every remaining veteran who is experiencing home assisted did the number is just under 40000 based on the best estimates the problem has been finding and connecting those individuals or or heads of families to housing resources and so immediately you see you need this kind of collective accountable structure in order to get the job done so if there are veterans remaining homeless in a community that's not a problem with resources it's a problem of do you have landlords who are unwilling to
00:20:01step to be a supportive housing vouchers do you have programs that are inadvertently keeping veterans homeless because there they are operating a shelter and they're not plugged into the housing resources what this data will surface is why are we not connecting the dots in more effective ways because what I really am describing a thing that's happened in communities Malcolm is a cultural shift where once you said like this is actually a solvable problem and it's on us the people who have awareness of the resources including where the private landlords who are the different organizations have resources it's up to us to coordinate and and be accountable for a result not up to people who are overwhelmed and then turned away from certain programs because they're not eligible with that is left on these overwhelm people some how to navigate the system once that flips you begin to realize that it's many different problems and many different
00:21:01resources can come into play dissolve them and then no one Community is the number so overwhelming that once you see the problem clearly are you unable to solve it give me a good really specific thing you might learn from creating this movie of your homeless as problem and how that might inform my job as mayor
00:21:25let me lift up a community like Bergen County New Jersey or Rockford Illinois or Montgomery County Maryland or Gulf Coast Mississippi places that have all ended chronic or veteran homelessness or not and I think the mayor of those communities would say after significant numbers of their Municipal Workforce people working and homeless have learned how to work as a team have grasped the fact that this is a population level problem that you have to be all in on and have learned by the 21st century problem solving skills like using data for problem-solving not for judgment and quality improvement
00:22:07that mare will see that there is des in livened empowered Municipal Workforce that is able to problem-solve not just almost as the problems that contribute to homelessness because it's all of this same thing of fragmentation they're going to see that they're spending money in ways that makes sense for the whole Community they're not randomly developing housing policies are homeless policies and throwing money against the wall and hoping something actually works out that they are embracing with members of their Community the spirit of accountability for taking on hard problems that can't be solved with a single program or a nap but require people really stink and work differently in teams using real information to drive their understanding of problems as opposed to ideological views that those are communities that are
00:23:07actually position to thrive in many ways and that homelessness we've come to see you after so many years in personally working on this issue it is really the symptom it's not the problem it's the symptom of this fragmentation the breakdown that is so overwhelming to so many communities on so many fronts organizing people around
00:23:31taking on and really committing to ending this young most visible form of of poverty is a way you can actually make your city work better it's a lovely phrase the Jesuits use called descending into the particular descend into the particular on two of these cities and tell me how they're homeless problems are different because presumably what you learn is it every City's homeless problem is different a pic a blue and a red Community has that because that that's unfortunately and the baby we sometimes think we're divided in fact think everywhere people just hungry to learn how to solve problems in their communities so start with Bergen County just outside New York city cross the George Washington Bridge really more or less the same high cost housing market so largely Urban and Suburban county is there homelessness issues were certainly more pronounced in the poor Urban centers there they have with the salon support of the county executive
00:24:31just one of the great leaders in the field of women named Julia Orlando who interesting Lee was trained in an emergency management before she went into this field and so they aggregated in one place all of the players quickly realized that data was the key to this knowing who actually was homeless rather than developing policy based on head of theories and estimates date were the first Community to end chronic homelessness they have now also ended veteran homelessness one of the things that Julia and her team do I mean they are like why is anyone even now almost six months in the county they have just changed what's normative but one of the things that they do which I think is so powerful is they have a public meeting I believe it's every month somewhere in the county where they go over their progress what they've learned about homelessness who the remaining your challenges are they could have made it a can
00:25:30CD projekt so it's not simply like that the people who are working formally in the sector this is I think also a case of a community figuring out a way to move its resources around Berry and nimbly once they realized the problem was somewhat different than they originally believed putting reminders was a problem different than they believe that was Flo and then they realized actually it's Amore containable problem and that they saw that having that highly specific data allowed them to start seeing problems emerging princess older adults who are becoming homeless in coming in to seek services so they're able to adjust how they were targeting their resources to put more resources into Elder services in the community and to create specific Services there but that's one example of kind of having this line of sight into something that's emerging and that you need to get ahead of very much a public health kind of view of a problem now
00:26:31Bergen County while Julia has done this I think masterful job of just making landlords and active citizens and libraries and local police departments aware of what's happening and roles that they can play and and really consolidating and the work habits of the organization's both the government organizations in the not-for-profit to receive resources in Gulf Coast is like my 90 mile area along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi like Biloxi and Pass Christian and the other smaller like largely referral and wooded areas with these dots of a small cities like 80,000 I think it's it's the largest city they have in an area with no State resources going into housing or Human Services they have mobilized veterans organizations their faith community they've created Outreach teams out of these Church groups with Vans and like knowing everyone
00:27:31name that they were one of the first communities to end veteran homelessness because they were able to mobilize the very long tradition of military service and patriotism in the region and say this is about us it's not about these individuals are homeless or what kind of a community are we and really tap into if there are small businesses and people participating and like landlord stepping up the sense of we needed each other and we needed help from everyone else after Rita and Katrina wiped out many of those cities and so in this area where there is very little in the way of an about a formal government-supported safety-net very different geography and a different mindset about and in terms of their outcomes and the way they have resourcefully deployed local assets very similar to Bergen County yet in a very different area once you descend into the particular it allows you to crop strategies that are appropriate for your community correct
00:28:30it's an ongoing thing it's not like you get there once and I V it having systems in place and having relationships in place and having the tools and placed that allows communities to solve this problem keep it solved and begin moving more and more Upstream to like where are the fault lines that create vulnerability for people that put them in a situation where they would lose their home
00:28:56thank you so much this has been wonderful
00:29:01before I let Roseanne go though I wanted to know what we can all do to make this problem a little more solvable right now this is going to be an ongoing feature is solvable by the way here are her recommendations
00:29:16first create a new expectation in your community you can visit are built for zero. Org website to see whether your community is part of the built for zero movement in the United States and if not why not support telling a new story in your community that it challenges idea that this isn't a solvable problem that perception and that mindset disconnect is really one of the Great Barrier is now then the idea of once your community has its number just demand that that number be going in the right direction or that your community your leadership and those working on homelessness are accounting for why they're not making progress and what other steps are needed that citizens can support but it's this community level accountability and expectation of progress that is the most important thing that individuals can contribute to that new cultural norm
00:30:16that's it you can find out more about this collaboration between Pushkin Industries and the Rockefeller Foundation at Rockefeller Foundation. Org solvable
00:30:30and stay tuned my friends because that dark shadow you see approaching on the horizon is season 4 of revisionist History

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