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

Featured Member: Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland

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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.

The Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland works to improve the lives of those most in need with special attention to families, women and children living in poverty. The foundation works to end homelessness in Cuyahoga County and to reduce health disparities and improve educational opportunities in Cleveland’s Central Neighborhood. We spoke with Rebecca Gallant, director of communications for the Sisters of Charity Health System, about the Foundation's youth homelessness and affordable housing work and the important role philanthropy has in convening around homelessness.

1. What issue are you working to convene your community around?

We are motivated by a strident belief that every person deserves the dignity of a home. The critical need for affordable housing has been a major focus of the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland since 1998.

The affordable housing arena is complex and challenging, but we believe our community can end homelessness in Cuyahoga County through collaboration, implementation of best practices and coordination among public systems.

The Sisters of Charity Foundation’s efforts are focused on ending homelessness among three core populations –chronically homeless individuals, youth and families. The needs and opportunities facing each population are different and thus so are our strategies for each, though we recognize in many cases these groups are not mutually exclusive.

Today, our role to convene the community around a topic is highly active in preventing and ending youth homelessness.


2. What led to your organization’s decision to convene on this topic?

Our work to convene the community around preventing and ending youth homelessness was inspired by our longest and most successful efforts, which have been to end chronic homelessness. This is achieved through the Housing First Initiative of Cuyahoga County, which the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland championed before its inception and continues to support today.

Today, Housing First is a model solution to long-term homelessness that links affordable housing with comprehensive support services. The vibrant initiative in Cuyahoga County, led by the backbone organization Enterprise Community Partners with the support of multiple government and foundation funding streams, including the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland, is based on the best practice Housing First model for single adults, and focuses on providing housing to some of the county’s hardest to serve populations—young adults and families who have had substantial homeless histories as well as a disabling condition.

Since the first Housing First project opened in 2006, through the end of 2015, Cuyahoga County has seen a 78% decrease in the rate of chronic homelessness. Today, Cleveland has one of the lowest populations of unsheltered individuals and we are well on our way toward ending chronic homelessness.

Background of SOCF involvement

Since the 1980s, permanent supportive housing has emerged as an approach for providing housing and services in the United States. The general model of permanent supportive housing includes providing both independent housing and essential services for persons with mental and/or physical disabilities experiencing long-term homelessness. In the intervening decades, cities across the country have developed various types of permanent supportive housing – from large single-site apartment buildings to scattered site apartments and with varying combinations of on-site and off-site services. Embedding services in permanent housing gives persons with disabilities who have experienced long-term homelessness access to supportive services in a stable living environment.

As permanent supportive housing became more widely developed around the country, the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland took notice that this model was achieving success in permanently housing persons experiencing chronic homelessness.

In 2001, the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland convened representatives from the City of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, other local funders, various service providers, property management firms, and community organizations, and began to meet regularly to discuss the idea of developing permanent supportive housing for persons experiencing chronic homelessness in Cuyahoga County. A the idea took hold, the Sisters of Charity Foundation in Cleveland — in collaboration with Enterprise Community Partners Inc., and the City of Cleveland/Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services — spearheaded these planning efforts.

Also, to further stakeholder knowledge of permanent supportive housing and to develop a case for permanent supportive housing in Cuyahoga County, the Sisters of Charity Foundation hired researchers from The Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University. Their work resulted in the April 2002 report, “Housing First: Documenting the Need for Permanent Supportive Housing.” By applying national homeless prevalence statistics to local Census figures of persons living in poverty, the report authors concluded at the time that an estimated 16,000 people annually experience homelessness in Cuyahoga County. The authors additionally estimated that, of the 16,000 persons experiencing homeless annually, an estimated 3,800 were single adults experiencing long-term homelessness.

The Sisters of Charity Foundation provided intense technical support throughout the planning stage, devoting staff and resources. In June 2003, a five-year plan to develop 1,000 units of supportive housing for long-term chronically homeless adults in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County was formulated, including with assistance from the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland, as well as assistance from the Corporation for Supportive Housing. Stakeholders named the initiative “Housing First.”

 As the Housing First initiative was implemented, Enterprise Community Partners and the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland partnered to provide the primary management functions for the overall initiative. Together, these two organizations worked to ensure project sponsors (developers, operators and service providers) were educated in the Housing First model of permanent supportive housing and had sufficient capacity and resources to effectively develop and manage projects.

During the implementation, the Sisters of Charity Foundation contributed financially, providing capacity building and organizational development grants to stakeholders, as well as support for the overall management of Housing First. Grants were made to Mental Health Services (MHS) to develop supportive employment services and to the Emerald Economic and Development Network (EDEN), Inc. to strengthen knowledge on supportive housing management and develop an operations manual specific to the first Housing First project. Additionally, Sisters of Charity provided annual support to Enterprise Community Partners to underwrite part of their costs related to providing administrative and technical support for the initiative. Foundation staff also worked to foster support for Housing First by educating community leaders and advocating for Housing First support from other local private and public funders.

In 2008, Enterprise, with support from Sisters of Charity and Fannie Mae, contracted with Abt Associates Inc., to further develop the capacity and organization of the Housing First initiative.

As part of broader capacity-building efforts for Housing First, the Sisters of Charity Foundation and Enterprise Community Partners provided education and training for VA administrative staff on permanent supportive housing and included VA staff in site visits to Chicago and Columbus, where permanent supportive housing projects were collaborating with the local VA.

Throughout the development and implementation of Housing First in Cuyahoga County, community education and acceptance have been critical in developing Housing First projects. Housing First stakeholders have dedicated considerable time and resources to educating the community and public officials on permanent supportive housing. Enterprise Community Partners, the Sisters of Charity Foundation and other Housing First partners have sponsored community forums, offered educational presentations at community meetings, and have produced Housing First newsletters and media materials designed to educate the public on the initiative and build general support in the community.

By 2010, the Cuyahoga County Housing First initiative developed seven residential projects totaling 401 housing units for chronically homeless individuals. From 2004 to 2010, the Sisters of Charity Foundation in Cleveland and Enterprise Community Partners have invested capital and staff resources in the development of Housing First Initiative projects and in capacity building among partner organizations.


Since the first Housing First project opened in 2006 through the end of 2015, Cuyahoga County has seen a 78% decrease in the rate of chronic homelessness. Today, Cleveland has one of the lowest populations of unsheltered individuals and we are well on our way toward ending chronic homelessness.

A January 2016 report from Case Western Reserve University focused on the evaluation of the Cuyahoga’s Housing First pilot for families and young adults using data from April of 2013 to May of 2015. The findings from the program evaluation overall are very positive. According to HMIS data, more than 89% of clients in Housing First remain in the program, and more than 79% have never returned to shelter after entering the program.

With regard to indications of stability, analysis of Department of Jobs and Family Services data indicate that at least some clients are able to increase their incomes through SNAP and TANF after being involved in the program, and available data indicate that overall, clients are increasing their incomes in dollars, as well. Analyses of child welfare data indicate that before entering Housing First, more than one quarter of clients had children who were victims of either substantiated or indicated child maltreatment, but after entering Housing First, that number dropped to less than 11%. Finally, 57% of clients who had an open DCFS case at Housing First entry had their case closed by December 31, 2014. These data suggest that the program plays role in helping these young adults and families.


3. Why have you taken on this role?

Inspired by the success of our role in ending chronic homelessness, in 2012, we turned our attention to preventing and ending youth homelessness. We know no one organization or agency can take on the task. It requires diverse and innovative thinking from nonprofit organizations, public systems, local government, the faith-based community, funders and — most especially — the young men and women with deep expertise that is only attained through lived experience and resiliency.

In 2013, the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland brokered a partnership with the national Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative to help young people in foster care make successful transitions to adulthood. Our work built toward creating a cross-sector partnership, which came to be known as A Place 4 Me. Consistent with the collective impact model, A Place 4 Me is led by a backbone agency/intermediary – the YWCA Greater Cleveland – and governed by a broader steering committee of: the Cuyahoga County Division of Children and Family Services; the Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services (which manages the Continuum of Care); FrontLine Services (the county’s largest trauma-informed provider of case management services to the homeless population); the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland; and the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative. Each of these organizations is represented by their senior leadership, people who have authority to make decisions on behalf of the organization or agency. The initiative is coordinated by a program director housed within the YWCA and receives significant funding and technical assistance from both local and national foundations, including the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Beyond the work to establish the steering committee, the Sisters of Charity Foundation has spurred and A Place 4 Me has developed a robust collaboration of more than 50 public and private agencies. They represent the education system, mental health providers, other homeless service providers, LGBTQ organizations, employment and financial literacy entities, and more. Most important are the active and engaged young adults who guide this work with deep expertise only attained through lived experience and resiliency. Youth engagement is a critical component of the Jim Casey framework and a guiding principle of our local effort. Young people have been deeply involved, and A Place 4 Me recently received resources from the Annie E. Casey Foundation to support ongoing youth engagement efforts.


4. What has been a major challenge or barrier?

As the needs of the community became clear and the partners came to the table, we all agreed every young person belongs and deserves a place to feel safe and comfortable; a place to feel welcomed and loved by family and friends; a place to dream about the future. We also knew that for far too many youth in Cuyahoga County, this place doesn’t exist. Each year, hundreds of young people experience homelessness and housing instability in our community. They lack the consistency, familiarity and stability of a home. And without it, everything seems harder.

Our challenge was to create a coordinated strategic plan to prevent and end youth homelessness in Cuyahoga County. Furthermore, our aligned agenda needed to respond to the unique needs of youth who experienced foster care and lack the emotional and material support of a family, leaving them particularly vulnerable to housing instability. National data indicate that nearly 40 percent of former foster youth experience homelessness or housing instability by their 24th birthday.


5. How did you overcome it?

The steering committee of A Place 4 Me, including the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland, led an intense series of convenings to create our community’s collective path forward. Over a 10-month period in 2014 and 2015, nearly 70 individuals from 30 partner agencies worked together to develop Preventing and Ending Youth Homelessness in Cuyahoga County: A Strategic Plan.

Presented at a community convening in July 2015, the strategic plan:

  • Prioritizes the needs of youth and young adults ages 14 to 24 in Cuyahoga County who are:
    • Unaccompanied by a parent, legal guardian or spouse, and
    • Lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence
    • Emphasizes homelessness prevention for youth leaving the foster care system and acknowledges the key role of the Cuyahoga County Division of Children and Family Services in supporting successful transitions to adulthood for these youth
    • Reflects the diverse perspectives of the planning members, especially the young people who generously shared their experiences and ideas to improve our system
    • Represents a shared commitment and vision to implementing these strategies to better serve youth
    • Is ambitious, comprehensive and drives at greater coordination and alignment of services to restore housing stability for young people in Cuyahoga County

In the months following the plan’s release, we worked with partners to further develop priority strategies of the plan and secure funding for implementation. Also, we have participated in learning communities, including the National Alliance to End Homelessness Youth Rapid Re-Housing Learning Community, the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, and Funders Together Foundations for Youth Success. We have learned and adapted, incorporating key lessons into our efforts, including: the importance of engaging broad system leadership; designing a crisis response system tailored to young people’s unique needs and opportunities; and creating flexibility in housing options and resources, among others. 


6. What are the results for your organization? For the community?

All of this work – from convening partners, to aligning agendas and combining resources – has attracted attention from national partners, including A Way Home America.

AWHA is a national initiative to build the movement to prevent and end homelessness among young people. It consists of homeless youth providers, advocates, researchers, government agencies, philanthropists and young people uniting behind a common goal to end youth homelessness.

This summer, after a nationwide search, AWHA invited three communities (Cleveland, Austin and Los Angeles) to support national learning through launching 100-Day Challenges, an effort supported by the Administration on Children, Youth and Families; Casey Family Programs; Melville Charitable Trust and Raikes Foundation. The challenges will identify and execute innovative practices to end youth and young adult homelessness, community by community. The challenges do not provide additional dollars for services directly. What these challenges offer is innovative support and technical assistance to set ambitious goals to work differently with what we do have as we identify resources that will scale up what works across the United States.

With guidance from the Rapid Results Institute, Cleveland, Austin and Los Angeles have each formed multi-agency teams, set ambitious 100-day goals and are now pursuing those goals through intensive collaboration and innovation.

The Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland is intimately involved in Cleveland’s 100-Day Challenge, coordinated by A Place 4 Me. Our ambitious goal is to house 100 homeless young adults in 100 days, and to strengthen support systems so that no child in Cuyahoga County will age out of the foster care system into homelessness ever again. On November 8, the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland held a mid-point meeting with the Rapid Results Institute to review the progress made to date by the A Place 4 Me team.

We are honored and excited for this opportunity. We are confident our 100-day journey, launched September 9, will not only move the needle on key youth homelessness metrics in Cuyahoga County, but will also inform the national dialogue and policy. Learnings and momentum from these communities will fuel the national movement to end youth homelessness.


7. What advice would you offer other funders thinking about taking on a convening role?

Shared strategy and willingness to innovate have been key factors for the work to prevent and end youth homelessness in Cuyahoga County. The Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland has been honored to support this work. Engaged philanthropy brings unique strengths to the talented pool of partners with which we work. Catalyzing broad funding support is another opportunity foundations bring to the table.

Through the efforts of the Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland and the Annie E. Casey Foundation – both members of the A Place 4 Me steering committee – we have maintained an intentional focus on engaging broad funding support for the initiative since its inception. As a Jim Casey national site, A Place 4 Me continues to receive funding support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The Sisters of Charity Foundation also invests in the operations of the initiative and has engaged colleague funders to do the same. As our work has moved into implementation, the Sisters of Charity Foundation has developed a funding collaborative approach to garner resources from local foundations to coordinate investment in implementation of the priority strategies. Recently, local funders developed a joint funding opportunity for organizations to submit Letters of Intent for projects aligned with the strategic plan to end youth homelessness.  Through this process, we believe there is interest for local funders to invest in the development and infrastructure of the flexible pool of rental assistance for young adults and complementary case management to support housing stability. Where possible, private philanthropic resources will be used to demonstrate successful approaches, which we hope will then garner the support of our public funders, such as the child welfare system.  And, because public funders – namely the child welfare system and the Continuum of Care – have been intentionally engaged throughout this process, we hope that this will facilitate their co-investment in innovative approaches to support the housing stability of young adults.


Take a look at our other members here and our entire network here.

Interested in past featured member profiles? Check out our archive here.

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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.

-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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