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

Lessons Learned from United Ways Ending Homelessness

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United Ways play a unique role in the community serving as funders and conveners, but even more, their value is highlighted through their deep relationship with local businesses through the workplace campaign fundraising model. This position provides an opportunity to play an important role in community’s efforts to prevent and end homelessness.

A few weeks ago, prior to the National Alliance to End Homelessness Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness, a group of dedicated United Ways convened to share best practices and explore the role of United Ways in ending and preventing homelessness. Eight United Ways from across the country were present as well as a representative from the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness.

The meeting was opened up to community examples from two United Ways in California. Joanna Bomba of United Way of Greater Los Angeles offered her lessons learned from the conception and implementation of the Home for Good initiative. In 2015, there were 44,000 individuals experiencing homelessness in L.A. County, and Joanna stressed the importance of the similarities between everyone’s communities in the room despite the differences in geography, demographics, and population. She gave a timeline overview of Home for Good, starting in 2009 by building a partnership with a Business Leadership Task Force, to launching Home for Good in 2010, up to 2016 where it is now comprised of more than 200 cross sector partners who have housed nearly 25,000 individuals experiencing homelessness.

The lessons learned during this process included:

  • Regulatory rules are often complex and conflicting across systems. Be open to learning and adjusting when working across these systems. Road blocks may be seen as deterrents, but solutions can be found.
  • Collaborative funding models can be challenging in the first year. However, the challenge also presents opportunities to work together in ways not done before and can bring new funders into the fold.
  • Public funders must come to the table. United Ways have the unique ability to serve as conveners, have relationships with local companies, and can be the neutral party in bringing people together. Take advantage of this position and make sure you are inviting different sectors to the discussion.
  • As funding begins to flow in, think about the capacity of people on the ground. If capacity is an issue, fund it!
  • Data can be difficult and expensive to manage. However, data is a necessity to evaluate for continuous improvement.

Carla Vargas and Brenyale Toomer-Byas of Orange County United Way (OCUW) shared about the experience of implementing the FACE 2024 campaign, a strategic plan designed to improve the community in four key areas – Education, Income, Health and Housing – with bold and prescriptive 10-year community goals established for each area to measure progress and expanding OCUW’s role in the community to serve as a Funder, Advocate, Convener and Educator. With over 30,000 children experiencing homelessness or who are unstably housed in Orange County, CA, the 10-Year Community Goal for Housing is: to cut the percentage of homeless and housing insecure children in half, which OCUW is helping to advance through strategic grantmaking and active leadership.

Lessons learned included:

  • Build a greater sense of awareness and urgency in the community on the needs and cost of homelessness. As the National Alliance to End Homelessness has taught us,” we have to treat homelessness like the crisis it is.” People are more apt to pay attention to and provide support for matters that are urgent within their own backyards.
  • Be more intentional about evaluating the work. Develop evaluation scorecards and an advocacy agenda to track and help drive efforts.
  • Keep the “big picture in mind” and focus on collective impact – you have to establish and drive strategic community goals.
  • Invest in the homeless system and support “out of the box” opportunities that are married to goal -be open to expanding funding models to support infrastructure and coordination to build capacity.
  • Do you want to provide charity or create change? Do not underestimate the role you can have in the community as a funder – shift from providing reactive funding to provide proactive funding.

The community examples led to great discussion about challenges that were distinctive to United Ways and some additional points for future meeting topics such as how to balance funding between best practices and emergency shelters, cultivating funder relationships to move the needle from conversations to actually aligning and using funds, and working with a small range of applicants.

The attendees also discussed the current state of United Ways and where we should go from here. The conversation turned to exploring the benefits of creating a United Way network with the goals of supporting each other through sharing lessons learned and community examples from across the country, and raising the profiles of United Ways funding homelessness through Funders Together.

At Funders Together, we share the excitement of those at the meeting who see the benefits and opportunities that this group can provide and look forward to supporting the momentum behind United Ways working to end homelessness.

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We joined Funders Together because we believe in the power of philanthropy to play a major role in ending homelessness, and we know we have much to learn from funders across the country.

-Christine Marge, Director of Housing and Financial Stability at United Way of Greater Los Angeles

I am thankful for the local partnerships here in the Pacific Northwest that we’ve been able to create and nurture thanks to the work of Funders Together. Having so many of the right players at the table makes our conversations – and all of our efforts – all the richer and more effective.

-David Wertheimer, Deputy Director at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

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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