A national network of funders supporting strategic, innovative, and effective solutions to homelessness

3 Must-Haves for Every Child


Hint: stable housing, great schools, and strong communities are key pillars of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Pacific Northwest initiatives.

I am always interested in seeing the impact that our foundation has here in our hometown of Seattle. I had a chance to do just that with recent visits to White Center Heights Elementary School, the Educare School of Greater Seattle, and the Brettler Family Place housing development in the Sand Point neighborhood.

What I found was that there are many parallels between our local work and our global work – specifically, there are a few things that every child needs to lead a healthy, productive life:

  • A stable place to call home
  • Good schools, with highly qualified teachers
  • Strong communities that foster a sense of opportunity

How we think about these three elements has changed over time. With some notable exceptions, the philanthropic and policy communities had tended to look at education, housing and social services as distinct categories, separate from one another.

We know now that outcomes for children and families are better when the systems that serve them are working together. We’re seeing more and more examples of that as school districts and housing authorities partner to provide combined services.

The fundamental shift is one of culture and attitude.

When I spoke with a formerly homeless mom and asked what had helped her the most, she didn’t answer with a program or policy. What she said was, “We needed to be treated with respect, and that’s what made me want to jump and do something.”

In successful schools, the cultural shift involves the elevation of expectations: the belief that all children can learn. I love visiting classrooms, and seeing this empowered attitude at work was a real thrill.

As Highline Schools Superintendent Susan Enfield said, “All of a sudden we have kids doing things we never thought possible.”

A change in culture leads to a change in practice, and I saw what a difference it makes when we step away from relatively impersonal, one-size-fits-all systems and give people the dignity and individual attention they deserve.

It means that social workers and housing providers are offering tailored services to meet the real needs of families. It means schools and teachers are offering personalized and blended learning to meet the real needs of students.

Of course, such a personalized approach demands more from everyone – and not only from the teachers, social workers, health professionals and others who provide assistance, but also from the people who are striving, with this assistance, to build a better future for themselves.

We all need the honesty to admit that the status quo isn’t good enough, and the flexibility and resilience to change our approach as needed.

We have to tap into the rich knowledge of local communities and empower them to help create their own solutions.

We have to challenge ourselves to keep learning, keep growing, work smarter and make a real difference.

It was truly inspiring to see some of the good work we’re doing in Seattle. While the foundation’s efforts span the globe, we maintain a long-standing and deep commitment to improving the lives of children and families right here at home.

I encourage you to learn more about our Pacific Northwest initiatives here.


Susan_Desmond_Hellmann_227x154.jpgSue Desmond-Hellman is the Chief Executive Officer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

This blog originally appeared on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Impatient Optimists.

Photo credits: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

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We joined Funders Together because we believe in the power of philanthropy to play a major role in ending homelessness, and we know we have much to learn from funders across the country.

-Christine Marge, Director of Housing and Financial Stability at United Way of Greater Los Angeles

I am thankful for the local partnerships here in the Pacific Northwest that we’ve been able to create and nurture thanks to the work of Funders Together. Having so many of the right players at the table makes our conversations – and all of our efforts – all the richer and more effective.

-David Wertheimer, Deputy Director at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Very often a lack of jobs and money is not the cause of poverty, but the symptom. The cause may lie deeper in our failure to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities, in a lack of education and training, in a lack of medical care and housing, in a lack of decent communities in which to live and bring up their children.

-President Lyndon B. Johnson, 1964 State of the Union Address

Funders Together has given me a platform to engage the other funders in my community. Our local funding community has improved greatly to support housing first models and align of resources towards ending homelessness.

-Leslie Strnisha, Vice President at Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland

Our family foundation convenes local funders and key community stakeholders around strategies to end homelessness in Houston. Funders Together members have been invaluable mentors to us in this effort, traveling to our community to share their expertise and examples of best practices from around the nation.

-Nancy Frees Fountain, Managing Director at The Frees Foundation

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