I’m never quite sure what the reaction will be when I mention the concept of “public-private partnerships” to a colleague.
I’m never quite sure what the reaction will be when I mention the concept of “public-private partnerships” to a colleague. Some in the funding community immediately say, “No, we don’t fund those kinds of projects.” Some don’t quite know what that kind of project looks like. And a smaller, yet ever-increasing, number respond with a smile and a nod that say yes, we see the value in those.
What is a public/private partnership?
A public/private partnership is best described as one that pulls resources from some public entity, such as a local government, and combines it with resources, usually financial, from private philanthropy. The reason behind these types of projects is simple: Local, state, and federal governments simply don’t have the means to address the plethora of needs in our communities. Private philanthropy, even with all of our combined resources, can’t do this on its own either. Therefore, combining our efforts maximizes the effectiveness of our work.
A need for a public/private partnership
During this first year of the Funders Together-Houston chapter’s activities, we’ve made a very conscientious effort to educate ourselves on the multi-faceted and complex issues that surround homelessness. As such, our chapter is unique in that it has brought to the table private and public funders to expand our conversation of homelessness in Houston.
Even though most of the members of the Funders Together-Houston chapter have and continue to provide support to initiatives that work with those affected by homelessness, our group’s activities this year have introduced us to a wider array of individuals and organizations dedicated to meeting our community’s extensive needs. Some have come from unlikely places.
One of those programs is the Houston Police Department’s Homeless Outreach Team (HOT), a program of the Department’s internationally recognized Mental Health Unit. In a departure from traditional policing, the HOT―made up of a sergeant, two officers, and a case manager from our local mental health authority―is a shining example of a proactive, community policing program that partners with local social service agencies, housing providers, and non-profits to help homeless individuals overcome barriers that keep them on the streets or that result in their incarceration.
The HOT, which travels the streets of Houston on a daily basis, does everything from helping individuals obtain identification to getting people placed in permanent housing, and everything in between. Until now, the HOT has relied on a mechanically-challenged 1999 van that, due to its lack of a ramp, forces the officers to manually lift wheel-chair bound individuals into the vehicle. As is the case throughout the nation, city budget constraints have not allowed for the acquisition of a new van. This is where members of FTEH-Houston decided to step in.
A Houston example of partnership
The Simmons Foundation and the Frees Foundation, both active members of Funders Together-Houston, have joined forces to fund the purchase of a new, wheelchair accessible van for the HOT. This fairly simple, one-time allocation will ensure that the work of the Team and its partners is able to continue well into the future.
By making the effort to learn about the work already being done by our local police department, we have been able to form a partnership that is, in our eyes, a great first venture into the world of public-private partnerships for Funders Together-Houston. As we continue developing our collective role and exploring the exciting possibilities ahead, we hope this small yet meaningful investment will inspire other funders in our community to look beyond the status quo and consider the vast possibilities that public/private partnerships have to offer us and the communities we aim to serve.
Amanda Cloud is the Senior Program Officer at The Simmons Foundation. The mission of the Simmons Foundation is to partner with organizations that strengthen women, youth and families while building an educated, tolerant and resilient community.