The Four Steps of Opening Doors Across America and Examples from the Field

As part of the launch of Opening Doors Across America, USICH is excited to announce that the call to action has been endorsed by recognized elected leaders in ending homelessness: Mayor Ashley Swearengin of Fresno, CA; Mayor Kevin Johnson of Sacramento, CA; Mayor Michael Coleman of Columbus, OH; and Governor John Hickenlooper of Colorado. These leaders specifically indicated the importance of aligning state and local plans with the goals, objectives, and strategies of Opening Doors: Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness.  

Many communities across the country have already made great strides in their efforts to prevent and end homelessness locally.  USICH will highlight cities, counties, and states that are leading the way so that their successful programs and partnerships can be used as models for other communities around the country.

Learn about plan alignment in Connecticut

Learn about Santa Monica's successful efforts on homelessness

Below, we link successful state and local initiatives with the four steps of Opening Doors Across America. Later this year, USICH will roll out a solutions database capturing many of these initiatives.   

Align with Opening Doors

The first action to become an Opening Doors Community is to align your community plan to end homelessness with the strategies and objectives of Opening Doors and to adopt its four goals:

  1. Finish the job of ending chronic homelessness by 2015
  2. Prevent and end Veterans homelessness by 2015
  3. Prevent and end homelessness for families, youth, and children by 2020
  4. Set a path toward ending all types of homelessness

If your plan is already aligned with Opening Doors, please let us know.

Norwalk, CT released a strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness in the spring of 2011 that is aligned with Opening Doors.

Read more about Norwalk's Plan

Set Targets and Measure Results

As a part of the second step, commit to incremental targets, measure your progress toward the goals, and implement strategies that will enable your community to achieve these goals. As has often been said, "what gets measured gets done."

  • Set numeric goals for permanent housing units made available for target homeless populations
  • Measure progress using the annual point-in-time data for the four population goals
  • Measure how well homeless programs help their clients become employed and access mainstream programs

The State of Utah and the City of Worcester, MA have been leaders in ensuring that progress toward their goals is measured regularly and with the most reliable data available. They have had great success at reducing the numbers of people experiencing chronic homelessness even to the point of ending chronic homelessness in Worcester's case.

Read more about efforts in Utah and Worcester

Act Strategically

Acting strategically means evaluating local needs, using best practices, partnering with those who can help you streamline your efforts and achieve your goals, and reevaluating your progress and adjusting your efforts to match the reality on the ground. USICH advises communities to take the following key strategic actions.

Key Priorities for Action

  • Transform homeless services to rapid response systems to focus on housing stabilization. Centralized and coordinated intake is key to making this work. Offer alternatives to shelter admission whenever possible, make shelter available, and ensure quick housing placement and housing retention.
  • Implement Housing First and Rapid Re-Housing practices broadly across all homeless programs.
  • Seize the opportunity created by health reform, both through expansion of Medicaid and expansion of community health centers by making sure eligible individuals and families are enrolled in Medicaid.
  • Coordinate with the VA Medical Centers as they implement the VA's 5 Year Plan to End Veterans Homelessness. The Continuum of Care, 10 Year Planning Bodies, and State Interagency Councils on Homelessness should be working hand-in-glove with the VA and their partners.
  • Collaborate with Public Housing Agencies to identify how families and individuals who are homeless can be prioritized for housing.
  • Commit to using data as a management tool. Review your state/community's data to identify system and program strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for improvement.
  • Work collaboratively and build relationships to streamline resources and efforts: involve health and human services, housing agencies, VA, education, corrections, law enforcement and the private sector, including business, philanthropy, faith-based and community organizations. Invest state, local, and philanthropic dollars toward strategies aligned with the strategic plan.

Memphis, TN; Denver, CO; King County, WA; Asheville, NC; Hennepin County, MN; and Clallam County, WA have each collaborated, invested, and acted on strategies that are proven to have an impact. 

Learn the details of what has worked in these communities


As communities implement strategic plans to end homelessness it is essential to keep the lines of communication open so that other communities can benefit from lessons learned.  State Interagency Councils have an important role to play to ensure effective solutions are shared and that communities can build on the knowledge base already developed.

Massachusetts and Missouri have used their Councils to spread the word about what works.

Read about successful state interagency councils in Massachusetts and Missouri