Colleagues from other philanthropies sometimes ask me if the activities they fund meet the criteria for joining Funders Together to End Homelessness. I don’t ask just about housing.
Colleagues from other philanthropies sometimes ask me if the activities they fund meet the criteria for joining Funders Together to End Homelessness. In response, I usually ask them a question like: “Are you funding promising practices or evidence-based programs that help vulnerable people stabilize their lives?” By discussing their answer, together, we can usually quickly determine if their grants are likely having a positive impact on people in their communities who are homeless or at-risk for becoming homeless.
Notice I don’t ask just about housing. That’s because beyond the “usual suspects” of shelter, housing, and housing-related services, there are many other funding areas through which foundations can touch the lives of people who are homeless, including: child welfare and well-being, food security, workforce and employment training, literacy, veterans’ services, mental health, substance abuse, and domestic violence. All of these areas are, in one way or another, related to homelessness. And, the more we recognize the connectivity across our various efforts, the more collaborative and strategic we’ll be in targeting our investments to the most efficient and effective sets of interventions.
Collaboration is Essential to Solving Homelessness
Efforts at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where I work, are a case in point. We are working with theWashington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence and more than a dozen provider agencies to pilot an innovative program that brings the “housing first” model to the fore of domestic violence interventions. The statistics confirming the overlap between family homelessness and domestic violence are stunning. And although the connection between the two has long been recognized, little has been done to promote collaboration across the domestic violence and homelessness response systems that serve many of the same families.
Based on efforts that began in Portland, OR, a determined group of advocates and providers from both systems in Washington State is now working to change that. The partnership is exploring how to make safe, permanent housing the solution of choice for domestic violence survivors and their children―either eliminating or minimizing long and costly stays in shelter. The initial results are very promising:
- 93.8% of Domestic Violence Housing First participants receiving services for at least six months were still housed at six months.
- 80.4% of participants receiving services for at least 12 months were still housed at 12 months.
When these two systems work together, the primary beneficiaries are the survivors of violence who are able to move more rapidly from dangerous and unstable living environments to the safety and security that allows women and children to thrive. Besides being a better intervention for families, however, permanent housing also is a far less costly intervention than emergency shelter. In an era of dramatically diminishing resources, where every public and private sector dollar must be stretched as far as it possibly can go, there’s a win-win here for both families and systems. While there will always be some level of need for emergency shelter for families fleeing the immediate dangers of a violent spouse, minimizing the use of shelters―and the lengths of stay in them―saves money and puts families more quickly on a pathway to stability and recovery.
Collaboration has been the key to this success. Funders Together to End Homelessness welcomes collaborations of this type across the many systems that serve people who are homeless or at-risk for homelessness. If your grantmaking touches the lives of people who are homeless or may become homeless, you already are part of the movement to end homelessness, and we invite you to join us.
David 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.