The 2018 Funders Forum was held in Los Angeles in conjunction with the National Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness. Seventy individuals representing 34 different foundations and United Ways joined us as we explored philanthropy’s role in preventing and ending family and youth homelessness.Read more
What happens when cities start to declare homelessness as an "emergency"? Where do we go from here? Funders Together Board Member, David Wertheimer of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation explores how these declarations can aid the fight to end and prevent homelessness.Read more
In order to end and prevent homelessness, we need adequate and affordable housing as well as appropriate income and employment opportunities. We must also work to prevent the next generation of homelessness by creating opportunities for our young people to live successfully in our communities.
We support Opening Doors, the Federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness.
1. To end homelessness, start with a home.
For families and individuals living in deep poverty, housing costs are the single most expensive item in the household budget. Nearly all pay more than half of their incomes for rent. This leaves limited resources available for food, clothing, child care, and other essentials. The loss of a job, an unexpected illness, or a family crisis can all too easily push a family into homelessness. Far too many children are sleeping in shelters.
At the federal, state, and local levels, we call for an aggressive, bipartisan push by government, working in tandem with the private sector, to:
Make rental homes affordable to more people by expanding the supply of rental housing subsidies. Rental assistance is a cost-effective, evidenced-based practice that is highly effective in reducing homelessness. It is the fastest way to make homes affordable to the greatest number of people with the lowest incomes. Currently, only one in four households eligible for rental assistance actually receives it.
Expand the supply of affordable rental homes by directing low-cost capital resources to the production and preservation of decent, safe rental housing. Pair capital investments with rental subsidies to ensure housing units are within the reach of households most vulnerable to homelessness. At the federal level, fully fund the National Housing Trust Fund and preserve the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program.
Increase access to private market and public housing rental units by people experiencing homelessness and people with disabilities. Create unit set-asides within state- or city-financed multifamily housing.
Expand supportive housing options by increasing funding for services. The most successful intervention for ending and preventing chronic homelessness is linking housing to appropriate support services. Supportive housing ends the cycle of frequent and inappropriate use of expensive social supports and institutional care that people with complex needs cannot break while homeless.
2. Open pathways to meaningful and stable employment to prevent homelessness
We believe that our communities are stronger when everyone who wants to work can find a job. To this end, we must broaden opportunities for jobs, job training, and income growth so that people who are facing high barriers to employment, including people who have experienced homelessness, can effectively participate in the labor market.
We call for aggressive efforts by government at the federal, state, and local levels, working in tandem with the private sector, to:
Level the playing field by creating and adopting performance measures, under the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act (WIOA), to Workforce Boards aimed at effectively serving clients with high barriers to work.
Increase the capacity of local workforce systems and other systems to effectively respond to the diverse work histories, education levels, and personal circumstances that people with high barriers to work present, so that they are connected to a spectrum of career pathways, training, and pre-training opportunities. Improve the way education, job readiness, training, placement, private employers, and support organizations work together to reduce barriers to employment for low-skilled workers. Share and disseminate best practices and successful programs, and create stronger connections between workforce systems and homeless service systems to reduce barriers to accessing employment services.
- Strengthen social enterprises that are successful in helping people who have experienced homelessness prepare for, find, and keep decent paying jobs within thriving industries.
3. Prevent a new generation from becoming homeless.
In every community, young people run away from home, are kicked out, exit the juvenile justice system with nowhere to go, become orphans, and/or exit the child welfare system with no supports to enable successful transitions to adulthood.
We call for action at the federal and state levels to:
Extend foster care to age 21 or beyond in all states, and ensure that all young people aging out of care have the opportunity to maintain safe housing until age 21 and beyond. Effectively use the period from age 18-21 to support young people in developing permanent relationships, pursuing educational and employment opportunities, securing housing, and developing skills to prepare them to live successfully in the community once they leave care.
- Reauthorize the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, which provides three different grants to communities so they can reach out to homeless youth on the streets and provide emergency housing with crisis intervention, basic life necessities, family interventions, and when necessary, longer-term housing options, including Maternity Group Homes.
If you have any questions about our 2015 Policy Platform, please contact Anne Miskey.
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At Funders Together, we make it a goal to share the work of funders across the country so you can learn what's working and adapt these strategies to your own community. One way we do that is through our Featured Members. Some are featured because of their innovative grantmaking. Others are featured because they are making connections and bringing new people into the conversation about ending and preventing homelessness. Still others are featured because they are challenging the very systems that allow homelessness to persist. In each case, our Featured Members are an integral part of the solution to homelessness.
In 1963, the Wilson Foundation was established by Joseph C. Wilson, then Chair of the Board of Xerox Corporation, and his wife, Peggy. Always on the quest for innovative approaches and implementing best practices, the Wilson Foundation recently supported the SHIFT Study, a longitudinal study that seeks to gain a better understanding of the effectiveness of local programs for the needs of homeless families. In this interview, Megan Bell, Executive Director of the Wilson Foundation, highlights some of the foundation’s important work.
Q: Why did The Wilson Foundation first start working on family homelessness?
Megan Bell (MB): Since the Foundation’s founding in 1963, we have always been committed to families in our community. Joe Wilson and his wife, Peggy, developed reputations as thoughtful community leaders committed to addressing problems head-on. They brought this dedication to the foundation when it first started, and it’s really a guiding force for the foundation to this day. In 1991, the Marie C. and Joseph C. Wilson Foundation, as we were known at the time, created Wilson Commencement Park to help women and children move to a place where they could thrive in the Rochester community. That was a pretty special moment for the foundation and the board because it was one of the first transitional programs of its kind for women and children in Rochester.
Q: The Wilson Foundation has supported some cutting edge work on the link between trauma and homelessness? How did you decide on this focus area? What have you learned?
MB: After Wilson Commencement Park opened, the foundation’s board wanted to learn more about homelessness across the state before replicating the model elsewhere. The idea for the SHIFT Study was then born. The Service and Housing Interventions for Families in Transition, or SHIFT, Study took a longitudinal approach to 1) document the needs and characteristics of women experiencing homelessness; and to 2) understand the effectiveness of different housing programs and related services in addressing housing stability and self-sufficiency. The study focused on single parent households across New York state and was conducted by the National Center on Family Homelessness.
The findings have been pretty incredible. 93% of women in the study experienced at least one instance of trauma. 81% had experienced multiple and more severe trauma in their lives. The study indicated that trauma symptom severity and low self-esteem predict long-term residential instability. The study also found that untreated maternal mental health conditions have implications for the long-term emotional and physical well-being of their children. In other words, we have to break the cycle.
We have our work cut out for us moving forward. Trauma-informed care is a difficult topic to understand because it’s not programmatic, but a way of delivering services. It involves everyone in an organization and requires connections across organizations and systems. Yet trauma-informed care is crucial for residential stability. We have to move the needle on this to ensure that we are meeting the needs of women and children.
Q: As you said, trauma and homelessness are two incredibly complex issues to tackle, especially if you look at cycles of trauma and homelessness over generations. What kinds of outcomes are you looking for? How do you measure success?
MB: Well, the first step is encouraging organizations to adopt a trauma-informed model. Organizations have to understand that this concept is an important one, and encouraging them to implement a trauma-informed approach is a process. It requires a cultural change, a lot of training, and frankly, humility. We have supported a number of organizations to go through training and then design an implementation plan. These are big steps.
One of the serious challenges we face as a foundation is the lack of data. We want to implement best practices and an approach that works. But we can’t wait for the data to start working at it. Sometimes as a foundation you have to take a leap of faith. You have to take risks to find success. The key is thoughtfully approaching the work and evaluating as you go. We don’t just fund an idea and walk away.
For us, it’s also been helpful to look at the ways in which we can evaluate without adding a lot of extra work on providers who are already capped. We use existing structures like HMIS. What does the HMIS data look like over the long-term for residents coming out of a facility that is trauma-informed? Do they come back into the system down the road? For us, it’s about achieving that long-term impact.
Q: One theme we’ve heard from our members is that no foundation can achieving that kind of change alone. What is your relationship with other funders? Can you speak to the ways in which these relationships are important for your work?
MB: Absolutely. We want to know what’s going on in other communities. These kinds of conversations happen a little less frequently, but being about to talk about systems thinking and trauma-informed care across communities is incredible valuable.
Locally we are the only foundation that focuses on homelessness. Now, our paths do cross with other local funders that, for example, support programs at shelters. We do get together to talk about best practices and programmatic investments that can make a difference. We want to invest wisely and that means that foundations have to make connections. Homelessness doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and so we have to recognize the linkages to the education system and mental health system and others. Trauma-informed care isn’t only applicable in the context of homelessness and we want to make connections to the bigger picture. We have to talk about these things openly. It’s incredibly important to share ideas and insights with other funders.
Q: How can groups like Funders Together support the work of family foundations?
MB: When you look at our assets, we are a small foundation. But we have many family members serving on the board. Because families have diverse passions, interests, opinions, and grantmaking preferences, it’s so helpful to have information on best practices for programs as well as advocacy and policy. We have to have a balance of both. Being able to present the way we can improve our community and connect that to the bigger systems change work is critical.
Q: What advice would you offer to other family foundations who are just starting to focus on homelessness? Where can they start?
MB: I actually just advised a family foundation that wanted to focus on homelessness in their strategic planning process. The first step is educating yourself about the issue. One of the greatest things about Joe Wilson was that he wanted to be at the table for community conversations. He didn’t just want to give money to an issue; he wanted to understand it and hear from the people experiencing it. Staff and board at family foundations should consider taking the same approach. Go and talk to providers. Don’t just have coffee or lunch with them, but go to the facility, meet the staff, and talk to residents. It’s so important to understand what’s happening in that environment. Beyond that, go to conferences hosted by Funders Together and the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Learn about best practices. Hear what other funders are doing.
I would also say that family foundations, especially foundations that issue smaller grants, have to think bigger than you are. When Joe Wilson was trying to build up Xerox and push the copy machine, everyone told him it was a bad idea. But he never gave up. That spirit really embodies the work of our foundation. We don’t think in terms of our assets. We think about how we can best impact systems change.
Interested in past featured member profiles? Check out our archive here.
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This series of recorded presentations focuses on family homelessness -- what we know about effective strategies and systemic approaches to ending it, and especially the key roles of philanthropy in support the systems changes needed to end family homelessness. Each of these presentations also has an accompanying written brief.
Instead of setting a specific time for you to tune into a webinar, this series is designed for you to view at your own pace in 20 minutes or less.
We welcome your feedback and suggestions for future materials. Please contact us with your ideas.
From Family Homeless Programs to a Crisis Response System
Click here to read the brief.
For further information on this topic, we also suggest:
- Funders Together briefs and other resources for funders
- US Interagency Council on Homelessness' Family Connection
- National Alliance to End Homelessness resources on families
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