A campaign to permanently house 100,000 homeless Americans has reached its audacious goal.

The initiative, which began in the summer of 2010, surpassed the milestone a month ahead of its July deadline. Coordinated by the New York-based nonprofit Community Solutions, the 100,000 Homes Campaign involves 238 communities across the country.

Together, they have housed 101,628 people, announced the campaign Wednesday.

The participating communities focused their efforts on veterans, the chronically homeless, and those who face the highest risk of dying on the streets. The campaign tally includes permanently housing 30,000 homeless vets and achieving an estimated annual taxpayer savings of $1.3 billion by reducing emergency room visits and other costs.

The blueprint for success has had four main components, according to Beth Sandor, the campaign’s director for quality improvement.

The first key has been to get to know the homeless individuals in a community by name and to understand their housing and support needs. “That was the first big shift that was implemented early on the campaign,” Sandor says. “Communities went out between 4 and 6 a.m. to survey everyone sleeping on the street or in the shelters, to know them by name, to know them visually, and to understand their housing and health needs as a way to then figure out how to prioritize the resources they had in their communities.”

Once they were armed with that information, the communities were able to prioritize and place the most chronic and vulnerable individuals into the next available permanent housing. Using the Housing First approach, people were moved quickly off the streets and into housing without jumping having to jump through hoops.

The third key was to measure progress, including understanding how many people needed to be housed each month to eventually reach the goal of zero. That led to the critical fourth move: Using the data and techniques drawn from the industry, communities made important changes to streamline their local housing systems, reducing the time it took to place people in housing.

In Nashville, more than 500 homeless people have been placed in permanent supportive housing in just the past 11 months. Advocates there launched How’s Nashville in June 2013, an effort aligned with the national campaign. It has been placing about 47 people into housing a month compared to 19 before, says Will Connelly, director of the Metropolitan Homelessness Commission.

He credits the impressive increase to a coalition of participants setting goals and working together. The national campaign has helped the local team collect and track data. It’s also helped Connelly’s group move from a first-come, first-serve model, the traditional approach of providing housing and services, to a prioritization model focused on the most vulnerable and chronically homeless.

“With dwindling resources, you have to prioritize those resources,” he says.

Turning points

Sandor began working with the homeless in Los Angeles’ Skid Row in 1998 and found herself frustrated as people churned through a system that wasn’t focused on long-term outcomes. When she moved to New York City, she connected with Common Ground, a pioneering supportive housing organization that was led by Rosanne Haggerty, who then spun off Community Solutions, the group behind the campaign.

“I saw the impact of affordable housing and permanent supportive housing on our ability to end homelessness,” Sandor says. “It really changed my view about what was possible. I think if I had not become connected with Rosanne and Common Ground at that time I would have left the sector believing that this was a problem you couldn’t solve. Housing plays such an important role in the solution to this issue.”

The 100,000 Homes Campaign also had its turning point. When the campaign began, participating communities were setting their own goals, with varying degrees of ambition and little structure behind the goal-setting.

After the first year, the leaders sat down to gauge the campaign’s trajectory. They were hit with the harsh realization that they were “on track to be the 30,000 homes campaign” if they stayed on the same course, says Sandor.

The team figured out that communities needed to be housing 2.5 percent of their homeless population every month in a consistent and methodical way, a pace higher than most cities were working.

“We said we need to be making much more data-driven decisions as a campaign team but also be asking that of the communities,” Sandor says. She and her colleagues called each one and asked them to set more ambitious, time-bound goals.

Even with the added pressure, most participants stayed on and recommitted to work harder.

Now that the campaign has demonstrated what it is possible, Community Solutions and its local partners have an even more ambitious plan.

“Ending homelessness is America’s next moonshot,” says Becky Kanis, campaign director and former Army captain. “Campaign communities have shown that it is possible to end homelessness quickly and permanently, even for people considered the hardest to help. Thisis an urgent national crisis, and we are out of excuses.”

Next January, Community Solutions will launch Zero: 2016, a national effort to build on the success of the campaign by helping communities get to zero on chronic and veterans homelessness.

“The campaign has moved a lot of people off the streets, but the job isn’t done yet,” Sandor says.

Connect with Donna Kimura, deputy editor of Affordable Housing Finance, on Twitter @DKimura_AHF