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

Reflections on a Week in the “Other” Washington

Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in a broad range of events in our nation’s capital that, once again, confirmed for me that we can and will succeed in our long-term goal of ending homelessness.

July is not a month I would usually choose to leave the Pacific Northwest, where I live and work, and head for Washington, D.C.  We have just about the most perfect summers, and there’s little that appeals to me less than floating through 100-degree days. But for me, for Funders Together, and for the movement to end homelessness, the events of the last two weeks made bearing those temperatures well worthwhile.

Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in a broad range of events in our nation’s capital that, once again, confirmed for me that we can and will succeed in our long-term goal of ending homelessness.

Champions of Change

My D.C. adventure began on Thursday, July 12, when I attended a special ceremony during which 13 Champions of Change were honored at the White House for their efforts to tackle the issues facing homeless youth. From street outreach programs to services targeting LGBTQ kids to supportive housing to innovative philanthropy, there was clear evidence from one end of the nation to the other that we are learning how best to address the needs of this population and how to implement the most promising practices at systems, organizational, and individual levels.

Meetings with Federal Partners

Then, I participated in a series of meetings focused on homelessness with several government agencies. During the meetings―which were convened by Funders Together with representatives from the Departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Health and Human Services (HHS) as well as the Domestic Policy Council (DPC) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)—FTEH Executive Director Anne Miskey, other board members, and I experienced time and again a level of knowledge, sophistication, and passion for the issues that we’ve rarely – if ever – experienced in the past.

Awareness of the need to act boldly and across the multiple systems that touch people who are homeless is expanding out from the “usual suspects” of targeted homelessness programs to include active participation from other federal agencies with other priorities, including veteranschild welfare-involved families and kids, youth, Medicaid and uninsured populations, and others.  Homelessness is no longer being thought of in isolation from the constellation of other problems that can accompany it, and our federal partners are increasingly reaching outside their silos to engage in meaningful conversations with the potential to lead to fundamental systems change.

National Conference on Ending Homelessness

Finally, at the annual conference of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, a record number of more than 1,500 participants gathered to hear the latest on what works, what doesn’t, and what we still need to figure out.  I’ve been attending these great conferences for years, and I’ve never before heard so many highly sophisticated presentations, smart questions, and intelligent answers. As a field, we are increasingly willing to challenge what we know, what we have been doing, and how effective and efficient we have been.  On the cutting edge of these conversations are the important topics of rapid re-Housing, moving away from the one-size-fits-all approaches of the past, and viewing the solutions to the problems we must solve as needing more than just the brains from our own limited perspectives and disciplines. Bravo!

We also had a strong showing of funders at the conference – from United Ways, foundations and trusts, and corporate donors. Funders are no longer standing on the sidelines, but are actively engaged partners in the systems change process, moving away from funding what is familiar (and sometimes ineffective), to what is innovative and energized with the potential for better solutions to seemingly intractable problems.

Funders Together Honored

The recognition of the role funders can play was highlighted on Tuesday night, July 17, when Funders Together received the Private Sector Achievement Award from NAEH. I had the honor of accepting the award on behalf of all of our members (and our brilliant staff); standing with Anne on stage at the Kennedy Center helped me to realize just how far we have come.  We now must make good on the implicit pledge that receiving this award carries with it: to continue to work to end homelessness in America from our unique perch in the philanthropic sector, where we can be both strategic and catalytic to maximize the impact of both our dollars and our efforts.

David_Wertheimer_2012a.jpgDavid 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.



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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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