Many homeless programs were developed to respond to emergencies, providing a safety net for people in crisis. The response from communities was compassionate and well meaning, but it was not a solution.
Many homeless programs were developed to respond to emergencies, providing a safety net for people in crisis. People living on the streets with no place to sleep or to get a meal needed something now, to get them through today, tomorrow, and perhaps next week. The response from communities–government, faith groups, providers, and funders–was compassionate and well meaning, but it was not a solution.
The problem we now face is that the short-term crisis response has become entrenched in many communities as the de-facto homeless system–with programs, agencies, and facilities all built to respond to crisis, but not to solve the long-term community-wide problem of homelessness. And, with the exception of a few communities, most of these homeless services are still largely delivered through loosely related programs and agencies, not organized as a system with a common set of goals and practices.
The good news is that, over the last 10 years or so, there has been a gradual shift away from short-term, emergency responses to building a system that addresses both immediate needs and provides long-term solutions. To work effectively, this system must include a network of programs and resources working together to address the problem of homelessness at the community rather than the programmatic or individual level. It uses combined resources – public and private – to provide a range of appropriate responses for all the people in the community who experience homelessness or face imminent housing loss – and works quickly to get them or keep them stably housed.
Opportunities for Funders: Creating a System to End Homelessness
Many who work in philanthropy often express frustration at their inability to focus on long-term solutions to problems when there are such huge, immediate needs – especially during tough economic times. They often feel it is an “either/or” situation – they can fund the immediate need or the long-term solution, but not both. As well, they tend to be familiar with and heavily invested in emergency homeless services and agencies—often shelters and transitional housing–already in place in their communities and are unfamiliar with what a solutions-based system looks like, or how to go about building or supporting one. Now, with new, effective models emerging across the country, there are examples of ways philanthropy can get involved in creating and/or supporting a system that provides long-term, lasting solutions to homelessness.
Recently, I heard someone say that what our communities need is not a safety net – which has holes that lets many fall through while trapping others in the net – but a safety trampoline, which would catch everyone and bounce them back up to health and stability. Philanthropy can play a critical role in creating and supporting this trampoline – this system that bounces people back up into permanent, stable housing.
To find out more about how you can help support solutions to homelessness in your community, check out the following resources for grantmakers on our website:
- Solutions That Work to End Homelessness
- Improving Housing Outcomes with Rapid Rehousing
- Using Local Data for System Improvement
- Framing the Front Door: Coordinated Assessment
- Retooling the Homeless Crisis Response System
Over the coming months, we will be posting more resources, including fact sheets on:
- Repurposing Transitional Housing
- Performance-based Contracting – community vs program outcomes
- Improving Prevention Targeting and Shelter Diversion efforts
- Targeting Permanent Supportive Housing to highest-need households
- Fostering Critical Mainstream Partnerships – working with other systems
And please let us know what you’re doing in your community to help solve homelessness. We love to highlight the work of our members!
As Executive Director of Funders Together, Anne brings years of expertise in both the corporate and not-for-profit sector. She is passionate about promoting the philanthropic community’s catalytic role in ending homelessness, working with government to create public-private partnerships, and advocating for funding and policies which end, rather than manage, homelessness. Find her at @FTEHAM.