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900 Heads Are Better Than 1: Reflections on the National Alliance to End Homelessness Conference on Youth & Family Homelessness

What happens when you bring together more than 900 of the nation’s leading players in the work of ending family and youth homelessness from the non-profit, government, advocacy and philanthropic sectors?

What happens when you bring together more than 900 of the nation’s leading players in the work of ending family and youth homelessness from the non-profit, government, advocacy and philanthropic sectors?

The answer?  Remarkable things.

Last week, this happened in Seattle, at a conference organized by the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

Despite the budgetary impacts of the last several years, energy levels were high, and the workshops and hallways were buzzing about innovative new approaches to thorny, challenging problems.  Here are but a few examples of what creative efforts around the country are beginning to produce:

  • Working together, the Departments of Housing & Urban Development, Health & Human Services, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, Funders Together to End Homelessness have completed a successful enhancement of the homeless youth counts in 9 cities across the US.  The lessons learned from this effort will be used to enhance the 2014 count across the nation, producing the best data ever on the extent of youth homelessness and providing essential information about how best to target resources to ensure effective and efficient responses.
  • Extraordinary partnerships in Idaho are producing real results for families being rapidly re-housed through the use of both Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) and Emergency Solutions Grant resources.  The program also is partnering with Mountain West Bank, using the Community Reinvestment Act as an impetus to creating Individual Development Accounts for families to encourage savings and provide access to mainstream financial services as an alternative to costly payday loan centers.
  • Practices that link housing and employment services are also gaining traction in places like New Jersey, where formerly homeless families are being helped not only with housing stabilization but connections to workforce and job training opportunities that can increase family incomes.
  • New partnerships between systems and providers working to end both domestic violence and family homelessness are producing outstanding results, simultaneously promoting permanent housing stability and family safety that helps stabilize families that have been traumatized by violence and abuse.  The gap between two systems, historically separated but serving the same families, is rapidly being closed.

And these are but a few examples of the new approaches emerging around the nation that offer powerful evidence of progress in the work of ending family and youth homelessness.  What each of these models highlights is the critical importance of systems working together to get behind and support the goals and aspirations of each homeless youth or family.  No one system can, on its own, end family and youth homelessness.  Only when these systems work together, integrating efforts and resources that reach across domains such as housing, child welfare, education & training, employment, and domestic violence can we succeed in achieving our shared goal.

In a resource constrained environment, and in the face of ongoing, restricted budgets at the state, federal, and local levels, the braiding of the public and private funding that touches vulnerable, at-risk and homeless families will be crucial to continued progress in ending homelessness.

The message from the NAEH conference last week was clear:  We can do this.  We must do this.  And we are in fact doing this; the early results are more than promising.  Working collectively, we are ending youth and family homelessness in communities across this nation.

David_Wertheimer_2012a.jpgDavid Wertheimer is the Deputy Director of the Pacific Northwest Initiative at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, Washington, as well as the Board Chair of Funders Together to End Homelessness. Find him at @DavidWSeattle.

This piece originally appeared on the Gates Foundation’s Impatient Optimists Blog.



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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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