Skip to content
CityLab
Housing

To Tackle Homelessness, Santa Fe Found a Better Plan

Based on real-time data and a focus on individuals, the “Built for Zero” model for delivering homeless services is designed to break cities of ineffective habits. 

Homelessness surged in Santa Fe in recent years, forcing Mayor Alan Webber to look for a new approach. 

Homelessness surged in Santa Fe in recent years, forcing Mayor Alan Webber to look for a new approach. 

Photographer: Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

For years, the plan for solving homelessness in Santa Fe wasn’t much of a plan at all. As in a lot of communities, reaction was the rule. Cleaning up encampments only meant chasing them from one part of the city to another. The city didn’t have a data-driven strategy; it couldn’t boast a people-oriented focus, either. Different agencies saw unique parts of the problem, but rarely the whole issue. By 2018, New Mexico topped U.S. lists for the percentage of people experiencing chronic homelessness. “We spent a lot of money not solving the problem,” said Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber.

Late that year, Webber decided to try something different. He committed the city to the “Built for Zero” strategy, an administrative philosophy that focuses on better use of data and coordination to tackle homelessness. Santa Fe is one of more than 80 communities that have taken up the Built For Zero pledge, a commitment to reduce homelessness to a standard called “functional zero.”