Bakersfield, California, struggled with extreme poverty and homelessness long before the pandemic, and when COVID hit, the challenges in fighting those issues only grew. But in 2020, the city and surrounding county still managed to achieve a goal that few other communities have: It reached “functional zero” for chronic homelessness, meaning that long-lasting and recurring homelessness were essentially eliminated.
The city and county are part of Built for Zero, a program that works with communities and cities across the country to end homelessness. Bakersfield began working with Community Solutions, the nonprofit that runs the program, five years ago. In January 2020, the community hit the threshold for functional zero—fewer than three people experiencing chronic homelessness at any given time—and then sustained it even as the pandemic began to take hold. (Chronic homelessness is defined as lasting more than a year or repeatedly over three years.)