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.
United Way of Broward County is an architect of solutions for challenges faced by many people in our community. The goal is to help children and youth reach their full potential through a quality education, give families the support they need to earn, keep and grow their assets, and teach people how to make smart decisions about their health. For more than 75 years, United Way of Broward County has invested more than half a billion dollars into the community.
We spoke with Howard Bakalar, Chief Program Officer and Pablo Calvo, Director of Support Services for Veteran Families about the work being done in Broward County and how United Way of Broward County's focus on Rapid Rehousing and Housing First has propelled the area's homelessness efforts.
1. Thank you so much for taking the time to tell us about the work United Way of Broward County is doing. Could you explain a little bit about what capacity you are involved in homelessness and housing issues?
United Way of Broward County (UWBC) wears multiple hats in the homelessness and housing arena in Broward County. As a funder, UWBC currently funds a variety of agencies to assist with mobile outreach, shelter care, rapid rehousing, permanent supportive housing, and transitional housing for special populations. As a member of the County’s Homeless Continuum of Care, UWBC participates in strategic planning for the Continuum, and its Chief Program Officer is the Chair of the Permanent Housing Subcommittee. As a community convener, United Way is helping facilitate an initiative with all other local funders, government officials, and business leaders to more fully address the affordable housing crisis in Broward County.
Finally, UWBC, through its Mission United initiative, serves as the lead agency for Broward County’s single largest Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Through a multi-agency collaborative, Mission United provides outreach, case management, and direct financial assistance to veterans experiencing homelessness and those at imminent risk for homelessness. In the last year, just over half of ALL the veterans served in the Broward County Continuum of Care were assisted by Mission United’s SSVF program.
2. Why do you focus on rapid rehousing and housing first as priorities to combat homelessness?
We focus on Rapid Re-Housing (RRH) and Housing First (HF) because these approaches work. Period. Ever since the large-scale demonstrations of the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing (HPRP) HUD Programs under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA aka the Stimulus Act), the success rates of RRH and HF have been clearly demonstrated in a national scale. These approaches were successful in different regions of the country in urban, sub-urban and rural areas in ways that traditional approaches to homelessness were not.
This paradigm shift was codified in the HEARTH Act in 2009 and for the last five years UWBC has supported this approach within our CoC and embraced it in our direct service programs. Our RRH and HF philosophies are evidence-based approaches that effectively reduce the length of time persons spend being homelessness and further lowers their risk for repeat episodes of homelessness in the future. When implemented alongside re-structured Transitional Housing and Permanent Supportive Housing programs, this approach has makes a substantial and sustained reduction in homelessness. Just looking at veteran homelessness, where RRH and HF approaches were most directly evident Broward County saw an almost 20% reduction in the number of veterans found in the annual Homeless Point in Time Count from 2013 to 2016.
3. In Broward County, 15% of the population that is experiencing homelessness are children under the age of 17. What are you doing to improve conditions in your community for youth experiencing homelessness?
As a funder, UWBC tries to educate itself on root causes, including the root causes of youth homelessness. From investing in programming for LGBTQ youth to facilitating affordable housing discussions, UWBC is attempting to help build a foundation of concrete and other supports for youth and families to hopefully avoid homelessness.
4. You have been very active in your community’s Continuum of Care (CoC). Can you talk about building that relationship and the impact it has had on your work?
United Way of Broward County (UWBC) has a long history with Broward County, as the local Continuum of Care (CoC) as a funder, planner, evaluator, and community partner in the arena of homelessness. UWBC has a designated seat in the Homeless Initiatives Partnership Board, the administrative board which advises Broward County government, the CoC lead. UWBC has been an integral and active member of the local CoC . Howard Bakalar, our Chief Program Officer currently serves on the CoC Board, is its Permanent Housing Subcommittee Chair, and serves on its Performance Outcomes Needs and Gaps subcommittee.
5. Communities work best when they are working together and have a shared vision. What are some of the strategic partnerships you’ve built within the community and what are some key ways you went about facilitating those partnerships?
United Ways are created to help a community wrap itself around the issues facing that community. UWBC embraces this role, and has a long track record of success bringing all partners to the table to move the community’s agenda forward. UWBC has built strategic partnerships with multiple public and private funding, service, and business partners, including its CoC lead, its behavioral health public funding entity, the City of Fort Lauderdale, and the Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce.
UWBC builds these partnerships mainly through its commitment to transparency. There are no hidden agendas, no heroes and villains. All partners at the table agree to, and are reminded about overall goals for the community. Because all partners agree to the overarching goals, facilitated discussion about how to reach those goals becomes productive, safe, and re-affirming, and rewarding.
6. How does homelessness and housing fit into your priority areas? What advice would you offer to other United Ways who are just starting to focus on homelessness?
Don’t be afraid of big cats! (i.e. tackling large and complex new issues)
According to statewide ALICE (Asset Limited Income-Constrained, Employed) Report, produced by United Way, 58% of Florida Residents pay more than 30% of their household income on housing and 31% of working households currently pay more than 50% compared to the national average of 25%. Within the State of Florida, Broward County is in the MSA with the highest rent-obligations and this is a huge burden for all residents but especially for working families with children who may find themselves with zero safety margins in terms of housing stability
"UWBC has been at the forefront of housing and homelessness issues because as we realized during the Great Recession, all of our other initiatives from early childhood learning, to drug abuse prevention, to food assistance for seniors are all more successful if everyone in our community has stable housing."
7. How can groups like Funders Together support the work of funders like you?
Funders Together to End Homelessness can help bring attention to the issue from a national perspective to what would be most effective in the local level. By combining best practices from an evidence-based model with advocacy and collaboration, United Ways around the country are uniquely positioned to be able to move this agenda forward in a positive direction. United Ways are generally funding partners with local governments and by combining strategic planning, contract management, and outcomes with these agencies we can make a significant and lasting system change towards the ultimate goal of making homelessness brief, rare, and non-recurrent.
Interested in past featured member profiles? Check out our archive here.