At Funders Together, we make it a goal to share the work of funders across the country so you can learn what's working and adapt these strategies to your own community. One way we do that is through our Featured Members. Some are featured because of their innovative grantmaking. Others are featured because they are making connections and bringing new people into the conversation about ending and preventing homelessness. Still others are featured because they are challenging the very systems that allow homelessness to persist. In each case, our Featured Members are an integral part of the solution to homelessness.
Miami Homes For All (formerly Miami Coalition for the Homeless) promotes community collaboration to prevent and end homelessness in South Florida through advocacy and philanthropy. Their work concentrates on advocacy, prevention, and informational services to enhance already existing community efforts and fill identifiable gaps.
We spoke with Bobbie Ibarra, Executive Director of Miami Homes For All about the organization's rebranding, its focus on housing, and successful advocacy efforts.
1. Let’s start with the basics. Many members may know you as the Miami Coalition for the Homeless, but recently you’ve become Miami Homes For All. Can you tell us a little bit about what lead to this “rebranding” and why it was important to your mission?
Barbara (Bobbie) Ibarra (BI): Miami Coalition for the Homeless was founded as an advocacy organization focused on protecting the rights of individuals experiencing homelessness. Back in the 1980s, there was a very high number of individuals living on the streets and because of this, there were many efforts to criminalize them. Business leaders in the community knew this was unacceptable and that a group was needed to focus on the issue of homelessness. When the organization was founded, many of the board members were experienced with legal services and wanted to create a movement around protecting and aiding people experiencing homelessness. Thus, Miami Coalition of the Homeless was born.
In 2001, we received proceeds from a surplus military property sale, made possible due to the Federal Homeless legislation. This allowed us to realign ourselves and evolve into a philanthropic organization. Through the transition, we maintained our commitment to advocacy by supporting policies that are instrumental to preventing and ending homelessness and that minimize the criminalization of those experiencing homelessness. Our grants complement our advocacy and offer the opportunity for agencies to provide innovative solutions to homelessness. Most of our work has always been about collaboration and advocacy, and this is still true today.
With a small endowment, we needed to think about sustaining as an organization and how to support our operations to keep funds focused toward grant making. When I joined the organization as Executive Director five years ago, it was during a recession and housing really took a hit. We always believed the housing was a critical piece to ending and preventing homelessness, but that gave us the impetus we needed to prioritize and elevate this community issue. This core focus on housing to end and prevent homelessness was the primary reason for our name change to Miami Homes For All.
2. This past year, one of your efforts, the Lazarus Project, became well received in the area and around the country and has been a great success. What led to the Lazarus Project and can you tell us a little bit about the challenges and opportunities around it?
(BI): While strides have been made in the community with ending episodic homelessness, chronic homelessness remains a strong challenge. We spoke with outreach workers and asked what we could be doing differently for those who were chronically homeless and living on the streets. A supervisor came forward and said that many years ago, as an outreach worker, he was called to the hospital where individuals experiencing chronic homelessness would be released into his care along with the appropriate medication. He took it upon himself to medicate them in order to ensure they were receiving the care they needed. He began to see a real transformation among these clients. They would become coherent and rational, and eventually could be moved into some sort of housing. He unsuccessfully tried for years to get funding for this work. After further discussion, I suggested that we start on a smaller scale so we began utilizing current resources and based on its success we provided the program a $24,000 grant to maintain the pilot with the goal of obtaining additional resources to bring the program to scale.
Camillus Health partnered to get the pilot off the ground by providing nursing staff and social workers to spend time doing outreach each day. All staff went out each day and medicated, assessed, and developed a relationship with the 12 individuals in the pilot program. This style of street outreach is entirely revolutionary and the program has successfully placed 49 clients in shelters, 2 in transitional and 12 in permanent housing and 50+ referred to permanent housing within the first year and a half. Our COC agency, the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust, was impressed with the results and has since awarded a grant for over $660,000 to enable the program to add additional street teams and other needed resources. Thus, our efforts to have the program become sustainable is proceeding forward.
Some of the challenges of starting a project like this is risk-taking! We believe that we are the only ones in the country doing this type of targeted outreach. In all of our initial research we learned about the Assisted Outpatient Treatment program operating in both Albany NY and Seminole County, Florida. This program, however, is court ordered whereas the Lazarus Project is voluntary, based on engagement and trust. We had many unknowns we had to face when we first started, such as are agencies willing to experiment with getting individuals to voluntarily sign waivers or, are we in any way violating HIIPPA right? Building faith and confidence from parts of the community was a hurdle, but we were convinced that if it worked in the past with just one man undertaking this unique engagement strategy, then it was worth taking the chance and convincing other partners to join us. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!
Another challenge with this particular effort was the balancing of service delivery with the need for the collection of relevant data metrics. Being in the pilot phase of a program creates the issue of having very limited resources so you need to decide what is most important in terms of where to allocate funds and time. Data is very important in every project undertaken, but is especially critical when you are involved in a start-up pilot seeking to establish the foundation for a sustainable, scalable, and systemic initiative that seeks to convince others of its importance and relevance to solving an important issue.
3. Funders Together has members of all funding sizes, and we try to encourage members to think about what they can do outside of providing grants. Miami Home For All has made a large impact with a smaller budget in the Miami area so what advice do you have to other organizations who are working with smaller budgets?
(BI): Smaller funders should focus on building partnerships based on collaboration within the community to leverage limited resources. All of our work is based on this strategy. In particular, we have embraced the Collective Impact model for our youth homelessness work, which has been most successful.
We recognized that youth homelessness was gaining national attention and saw this as a huge opportunity to broaden our work in this area; however, we also realized that we did not have the capacity to undertake this initiative by ourselves. Thus, we sought out other funders to collaborate with us to support the creation of the backbone support organization, one of the five components defined in the Collective Impact model.
We now have 49 agencies working on 7 different committees designing a comprehensive system of care to prevent and end youth homelessness in our community. By engaging and convening the community in this holistic and collaborative manner, we have created a sense of unity, urgency and importance around this issue which we believe will result in more systemic, effective and sustainable community wide solutions.
4. You have been very active advocating for issues of homelessness in the Miami area. Many foundations and organization see advocacy as something that they can’t or shouldn’t attempt. Why advocacy is so important and what advice do you have for others who are considering doing more work around it? What makes advocacy efforts successful?
(BI): Everyone assumes philanthropy dollars are abundant and represent a significant financial resource. But in reality, it is actually small compared to the amount of government funds allocated to social services at both the federal, state and local levels. That is why we think that it is so important for philanthropy to leverage and compliment government programs that are aligned with best practices we know to be effective and that ultimately prevent and end homelessness through systemic change.
Partnering with appropriate policy leaders is really the only way to ensure this happens! Public/Private partnerships are at the core of successful and impactful change. You accomplish more by working together. With that being said, if philanthropy is going to support and compliment government programs, then we need to be able to influence what these polices are to ensure that they are the most effective. Thus, educating, informing and engaging policy leaders on best practices and evidence based solutions is one effective strategy for ensuring the development of the most relevant policies possible.
In order to be successful in advocacy, we believe that it is important that we make effective and compelling use of data analytics. Define and quantify the need you are trying to address, offer viable and meaningful solutions and document the economic benefits that will be achieved. In today’s world, it is not enough to discuss the resources needed to address a problem; we must be able to also define what the positive social and economic impacts will be realized when effective solutions are implemented.
If there is an opportunity to bring different sectors together – do it! It is an opportunity for all parties (philanthropy, non-profits, community leaders, business and local officials) involved to come together and discuss what needs to happen and who should be accountable for what. By doing this, you ensure that everyone is committed to the same strategies and policies so when you bring an issue to your leaders, you can display widespread community support.
I know that advocacy can seem daunting and finding a starting place can be overwhelming. But it can come in all forms: it can be as simple as providing a report that documents quantifiable solutions and outcomes or, it can be hosting a convening where relevant experts share their strategies and solutions. Education is a critical component of advocacy work.
One of our major advocacy successes was around our affordable housing work. We hosted the Homes for All Housing Summit this past year and as a result, the county has been undertaking new and innovative solutions to ensuring that we have the various types of housing needed in our community. For example, Miami Dade County has an Affordable Housing Trust Fund that was adopted several years ago; however, there was no prioritization as to how these funds would be allocated. Given our focus on preventing and ending homelessness, we, and our community partners, believed that the Trust Fund should allocate resources based on household needs within our community. To that end, the Commission did modify the Trust Fund to now allocate 50 % of the resources to either extremely low income or very low income households. This is a first for our community and a major win for Miami-Dade County. By convening a multi sector policy driven agenda event which resulted in people coming together to collaborate, we were able to leverage influence effectively and systemically.
5. Miami Homes For All is very involved in Funders Together Florida. What do you think are some of the benefits and opportunities of working with the network?
(BI): There are so many benefits! Networks are great for continuous learning. Working within a network gives you the opportunity to first learn from one another as well as it enables a group to invite experts to provide more up to date best practices. Networks also assist in engendering a collaborative and cooperative spirit. As I mentioned before, leveraging resources enables a small organization’s ability to be impactful.
In addition, while many funders focus their resources on their local community, when working in a network, you can have the ability to expand your impact both geographically and programmatically through partnerships. We have found it vital for funders interested in advocacy, to think about local, state and federal issues because each one has an impact on how we strategically utilize our resources. For example, not every community in Florida is working on youth homeless but through a network more attention and support for this work could be undertaken. Networks can bring this type of synergy to the table and make others aware of issues and ways around challenges providing many more opportunities.
As far as challenges, sometimes funders may not choose a more comprehensive or holistic approach to an issue that they are supporting. For example, grantors who funds in education may not see the correlation between homelessness and education yet it definitely exists. So as we try to engage others and build partnerships we need to recognize that sharing data and information that shows the integration of various sectors might be helpful in garnering important partnerships.
6. How can groups like Funders Together support organizations like yours?
(BI): The website and connection to best practices are amazing resources for us. When you are small philanthropic organization, having access to valuable research, resources and contacts is extremely important. The Communities of Practice and similar networks expose you to other people from whom you can learn a lot, very quickly! Funders Together is so phenomenal at providing opportunities to do that.
7. What advice would you give to organizations who aren’t currently focused on homelessness, but would like to start becoming more involved?
(BI): Most importantly, learn about what is the state of homelessness is in your community. Who are the key players you need to connect with? It is important to do your due diligence and find out who is involved and begin to engage with them. Relationship building is essential. Learn from them what they believe the critical community homelessness issues are: youth, family, veteran, chronic, or all the above?
You should also ascertain what is currently being funded by who in your community. Another great resource is learn if there are already existing networks or community groups within which you should become involved. Networking, engagement, learning and collaboration is what it is all about.
Interested in past featured member profiles? Check out our archive here.