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Butler Family Fund Invests in Employment Programs that Target Homelessness

The Butler Family Fund has taken a two-pronged approach: we’ve addressed both our limited resources and the desire to make the most impact on ending homelessness.

No matter what our asset size, as grantmakers, we face the same task:  With finite resources, how can we best tackle homelessness? The Butler Family Fund has taken a two-pronged approach to answering this question: We’ve addressed both our limited resources and also how we can make the most impact on ending homelessness.

On the question of resources, we have been privileged to be able to expand our work through a partnership with the Geneva-based Oak Foundation, which has an interest in solving homelessness in America. Under this partnership, Butler provides expanded funding to catalyze and move mainstream public systems to better serve homeless people. Since that’s a mouthful, below, I’ve described some examples of the work, which has been focused around employing homeless people. Next to housing, we view employment as key to self-sufficiency for homeless and formerly homeless people.

We have made a series of $50,000 to $100,000 grants intended either to show how to re-purpose public dollars in smarter ways to better serve homeless jobseekers, or to lift up and publicize effective ways to employ homeless people so that others can copy and use this learning. To identify our grantees, we looked to organizations with expertise in hiring people with high barriers to employment. These organizations understand what works best for employing people, including homeless people, who may never have worked, may have been out of the workforce for a long time, and/or may face physical and mental obstacles to working.

To start, we gave a grant to the National Transition Jobs Network. The Network promotes ‘transitional jobs’ as a strategy to move “people with labor market barriers into work using wage-paid, short-term employment that combines real work, skill development and supportive services.” With our grant, the Network did a national scan, convening the programs they thought were doing the best job employing homeless people. They gathered and synthesized the learning, publishing four papers for use by anyone who is interested in how best to hire homeless people.

We used a second grantmaking strategy: identifying champions who were in a position to move the public workforce system to better serve homeless jobseekers. To that end, we gave a grant to the Workforce Development Council of Seattle-King County to convene officials from other public workforce boards in order to brainstorm about using their resources on behalf of homeless people. These officials have presented at national webinars, worked with the US Department of Labor, and continue to present at workforce conferences to share their learning. We are pleased to support this cross-pollination between the homeless and workforce systems.

Finally, we have invested in promising, innovative employment programs around the country.  We made a series of grants to The Road Home in Salt Lake City, which is engaged in creative work around employing residents of permanent supportive housing. We invested in Bayaud Enterprises in Denver to expand a promising public-private partnership that employs homeless and formerly homeless people in the hospitality industry.  We gave a grant to the Supportive Housing Providers Association of Illinois to partner with the Chicago Jobs Council and bring promising employment practices to their supportive housing membership.

Our grantmaking is a work in progress. To date, we are extremely excited about the collaboration and shared ideas that our investments have generated.  The examples presented here are only a sampling of the grants we have made, which are intended to deepen the learning around how best to employ homeless and formerly homeless people, identify workforce development champions to help address homelessness in their communities, and invest in and publicize programs that work.  With limited dollars, we have chosen to capitalize on champions and opportunities as a way to catalyze change.

Martha_Toll.jpgMartha is the founding executive director of the Butler Family Fund, a path-breaking philanthropy focused on ending homelessness, abolishing the death penalty, and ending the sentence of juvenile life without parole.




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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.

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