Philanthropy needs to play a role in order for us to achieve the goals in Opening Doors.
Last year with the support of philanthropic organizations from across the nation, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) launched Opening Doors, the first federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness. Since then, we have had unprecedented collaboration from federal agencies-with one another, and with state and local governments and nonprofits-in our efforts to implement Opening Doors. We are laying the groundwork for future successes through better collaboration, better data collection, better use of mainstream resources, and by engaging states and local communities in the Plan’s goals and strategies.
Earlier this month, we spoke at the Funders Together to End Homelessness meeting, Catalytic Philanthropy and Ending Homelessness: Aligning Resources and Creating Change in the Pacific Northwest, about the role philanthropy needs to play in order for us to achieve the goals in Opening Doors. Here are the recommendations we presented:
Importance of Collaboration
Collaborative leadership is a key area where philanthropy can make a huge difference in communities where you invest. Are the right people at the table from the public and the private sector, including business and faith communities and top government officials? Are philanthropic leaders participating and pushing for change? Does a community need to invest in an intermediary that will help build consensus for a local Opening Doors plan and then shepherd implementation?
Fund Best and Promising Practices and Encourage Research
We need to invest in what works. For foundations, that means making sure that grants are structured to encourage the use of promising and best practices and to encourage the collection of data to measure results. In areas where we need better information-around effective practices for unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness, for example-we need help investing in research that will build our knowledge base.
Increase Affordable Housing Stock for People with Extremely Low Incomes
We will not end homelessness without an adequate supply of affordable housing that serves the very lowest income households (15% of Area Median Income). Foundations often support organizations that provide housing for households at 50-60% of Area Median Income. While this work is important, it can mean that individuals with the lowest incomes are priced out of “affordable” housing. Foundations can also encourage local housing agencies to review their policies and practices to determine if they are helping prevent homelessness for people with public housing or housing choice vouchers, and whether they are screening in families and individuals experiencing homelessness.
Plan for Affordable Care Act Implementation
Now is the time to convene state health care leadership and local providers to ensure that local implementation of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act includes strategies for increasing permanent supportive housing as a tool to improve the health of people with disabilities and other chronic health conditions. This is an opportune area for philanthropy to act now. Many supportive housing providers have relied on foundations to pay for the services that make supportive housing work. Many of those services can now be reimbursed under Medicaid. And in 2014, nearly every single adult experiencing homelessness will become eligible for Medicaid. Making this work requires deliberate action by state policymakers and, where they are a part of the mix, managed care organizations. There is a capacity issue for many supportive housing providers too. Philanthropy can bring people together to plan for 2014 so that no time is lost implementing the Affordable Care Act.
Work Actively on Employment Programs
The best defense against homelessness is a job that pays. Philanthropy can bring workforce centers and state and local policymakers responsible for the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program together to plan employment programs that are effective for individuals, youth, and families experiencing homelessness. There are some good models emerging across the country that can be replicated when local leaders prioritize vulnerable populations.
Focus on Increasing Access to Benefits
For people who require extra support, there are proven methods to improve access to benefit programs like Social Security, Medicaid, TANF, and food stamps through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s SOAR program, Benefits Banks, and many other programs. This is another area where convening and small investments can have large local returns.
Better Support for People Transitioning out of Foster Care, Juvenile Justice, Adult Corrections, and other Institutions
There are critical homelessness prevention strategies that local communities should pursue to promote stability for youth in the foster care or juvenile justice systems, and people with mental illness and substance addiction who cycle through jails and prisons. Early discharge planning that addresses housing stability, good transitions from institutions into the community, and the right package of community-based wraparound support services, sometimes linked to housing assistance, are all critical.
Retool Crisis Response
As we ask communities to transform their homeless services to crisis response systems, philanthropy can play a key role by investing in prevention, rapid re-housing, and transition-in-place programs; by helping communities improve their data and ability to monitor the effectiveness of their systems; and by pressing for centralized intake and effective matching of services to the needs of those being served.
We look forward to continuing this active dialogue with philanthropy across the nation as we work to ensure that everyone in America has a safe, stable place to call home.
Barbara Poppe is the Executive Director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. In this role, Barbara oversees the federal response to homelessness by working with 19 federal agencies to create a national partnership at every level of government and with the private sector to reduce and end homelessness in the nation.