It’s troublesome that the issue of homelessness has maintained a comparatively low profile in this election season, regardless of which candidate or party is holding the microphone at any given point in time.
One of the remarkable things about the philanthropic sector is the diversity of political perspectives among the trustees and staff of foundations, corporate giving programs, and United Ways. I have met and engaged with Democrats, Republicans, Green Party members, socialists, independents… You name it, you can pretty much find it in our ranks.
While we sometimes have different visions of what success looks like, and different perspectives on how we can get to a desired future, I have encountered no villains among us. Every one of my philanthropic colleagues appear passionate about improving the lives and experiences of the most vulnerable and fragile of our citizens.
That said, it’s troublesome that the issue of homelessness has maintained a comparatively low profile in this election season, regardless of which candidate or party is holding the microphone at any given point in time. We’ve heard a lot about important issues like the economy, education, national debt, foreign policy, and fossil fuel dependence. But we’ve not heard our national political candidates speak extensively and clearly about homelessness in the context of the campaign.
That’s where our sector’s voice can play a role. While those of us who work in private foundations are precluded from what the law defines as lobbying, that doesn’t mean we can’t raise questions about the issues we feel represent some of the most important priorities facing this nation.
Many of us, through either our personal or professional lives, are in the position to interface with people who may be working on political campaigns or shaping policy platforms for candidates. Perhaps we may even have contact with the candidates themselves at fundraisers or other political events.
Without raising specific pieces of legislation or discussing voter initiatives, it is fully within bounds to talk about the high priority we put on addressing the needs of those who are most at risk—or are already experiencing—homelessness.
It’s not likely that many people who are homeless will have the access to influential people that our sector has achieved. That is, itself, one definition of disenfranchisement. But we can help give voice to the needs and concerns of those who may, for now, have trouble getting their own voices into the hallways of power.
I encourage all of us in the philanthropic sector who care about homelessness to use our own voices to make known to those running for office at the local, state, and federal levels what is important to us. Regardless of which party or candidates you support on November 6th, all of them—and all Americans—will benefit when they hear from us that ending homelessness must be a high priority for our nation.
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. Find him at @DavidWSeattle.