Credit: Melville Charitable Trust
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 2013 the Melville Charitable Trust—the largest foundation in the United States exclusively devoted to preventing and ending homelessness—announced a new grantmaking strategy. In this interview, Executive Director Janice Elliott talks about the work that has helped define their renewed approach and the valuable lessons learned that have brought clarity to the role that the Trust and other foundations can play in the quest to end homelessness.
Q: The Trust announced a new grantmaking strategy last fall. Can you give us an overview?
Janice Elliott (JE): For many years, the Trust has invested in work focused on preventing and ending homelessness. Most of our work targeted individuals who were experiencing chronic homelessness and solutions such as supportive housing. Last year we went through a strategic planning process and realized that if we are going to put an end to homelessness, we need to expand how we are working on this issue. We honed in on three areas: housing, health and support, and income. For those who have known the Trust for a long time, our emphasis on those three areas is not new. But going forward, we will be more deliberate about moving our work—and encouraging the work of our grantees—to focus clearly on solutions. In each of those three areas, we are focusing on changes that go beyond individual programs to improve the systems that fund programs and deliver services.
Q: Can you talk about how these three areas correlate and how that plays out in the work you are doing?
JE: One good example is the correlation between housing and health and support. Some of the largest investments we have made are in the realm of supportive housing, which is affordable housing where tenants can get access to support services that help them remain stable in housing. These tenants are individuals and families that need an extra level of assistance—perhaps due to a mental illness, or a history of substance addiction, or both, or other chronic health conditions. Here in Connecticut, and in many other states, healthcare reform has expanded the number of people who are eligible for health insurance under Medicaid. That means there is now health insurance available to individuals who may be experiencing homelessness who did not have that access before. Medicaid is a potential resource to fund the services side of supportive housing—and it may help us to dramatically expand this amazing housing resource. But there are a lot of questions about how that would work in Connecticut. We are funding the Corporation for Supportive Housing to explore this new opportunity from the public sector point of view and to also work with local nonprofit organizations to strengthen their capacity to use Medicaid in this way.
Q: The Trust has defined housing as the building block for solving homelessness. Can you talk about that philosophy?
JE: When an individual or family is homeless, their life is in chaos. Homelessness happens when nothing else has worked. People don’t have resources: they are just trying to figure out how to get a roof over their head for a night, and how they can get food. But once you have housing—once you have a home that is yours—then you can start to think about getting help on other things. For example, if you’re homeless and you try to get a job, you don’t have an address to put on an application; you don’t know where you are going to sleep at night; you don’t even know how you are going to get to work from where you are. There is no stable base to work from. But once a family or an individual gets into housing things stabilize and they are much more open, eager and willing to address other needs they may have. Being homeless is like trying to run a marathon in quicksand: it doesn’t work, which is why we put housing at the center.
Q: Can you tell us about some of the investments the Trust has made in housing?
JE: We invest both in Connecticut and at the national level. On the national policy level, we invest in groups such as the National Low Income Housing Coalition and their efforts to create a national housing trust fund that will provide resources to expand the supply of affordable housing serving extremely low-income households. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is involved in efforts to expand rental assistance to make housing more affordable for people with the lowest incomes. Another major grantee partner is the National Alliance to End Homelessness, which has been successful in getting bipartisan support to create supportive housing and rapid rehousing, which is a fairly new intervention that moves families quickly from shelters into housing and gets them stabilized.
In Connecticut we support the housing policy work of the Partnership for Strong Communities and other partners involved in the Reaching Home campaign, which is a highly collaborative, statewide effort focused on solutions to homelessness. We have also invested in community loan funds to provide start-up support for developers to create more supportive and affordable housing. We also invest in capacity building. The Connecticut Housing Coalition has an Affordable Housing Academy that brings housing authorities and nonprofit development organizations together to plan new housing development projects—so they can expand the supply of affordable housing, then coordinate services in those communities. So we invest in a variety of ways—both supporting groups that are creating housing, and funding work that creates a policy environment that will allow for the expansion of housing.
Q: The Trust has some direct ownership of housing in Hartford, Connecticut. Can you tell us about your work in that community?
JE: In 2003, the Trust renovated an historic building, the Lyceum, which has become a wonderful education and conference center that provides a space where the community and policymakers can gather to exchange ideas on how to create safe, affordable housing and strong communities. As the Lyceum became more successful, the Trust board and staff looked around and thought that we can’t just be an island in a neighborhood that is in dire need of more investment. The Trust purchased several homes around the Lyceum as well as the Billings Forge housing complex across the street, totaling 117 units of mixed-income, primarily affordable, housing. The Trust invested a lot of dollars into improving the housing and stabilizing the buildings. We also founded Billings Forge Community Works—an amazing nonprofit located within the Billings Forge complex. They work with families living at the complex as well as those in the neighborhood on youth development programs, a culinary arts program, and an employment program. Everything is centered on food. So right there at Billings Forge there is a farmers’ market, a community garden, and a social enterprise café called The Kitchen that provides job training for individuals who have had significant barriers to employment. Within the same Billings Forge complex the Trust opened Firebox—an award-winning farm-to-table restaurant. So we invested in housing but we also looked beyond housing at investments that could create more jobs and attract more public and private sector investment to the neighborhood.
Q: Can you give us any insights into what you learned from the investments you made in that community?
JE: Yes. There were good lessons to be learned, and our role has shifted. We realized that foundations are probably not the best entities to own housing, and we realized that we needed a partner who specialized in the operation of mixed-income housing and could also bring in public and private sector dollars to do a large refurbishment of the Billings Forge apartments. So at the end of 2013, we formed a partnership with POAH, Preservation of Affordable Housing—a national nonprofit based out of Boston. The Billings Forge complex is now owned by a partnership of the Trust and POAH, with POAH taking the lead role. We are really excited because we took the risk of buying properties that needed attention. We made a fair number of investments, but the properties probably hadn’t had a substantial rehab in about thirty years—and it was time. We were able to attract a development partner, which would have been hard in those early years. So we brought the housing to a place where we could take it to the next step and say, OK, we have done the part we needed to do; now we can turn over the housing piece to a partner.
Q: I imagine your experience with the Billings Forge project is instructive to other foundations. Is there any other advice you can give to foundations engaged in ending homelessness?
JE: There are foundations that don’t believe they can get involved in policy work because they think it’s lobbying. But there is a difference between having a point of view and lobbying. We are not funding groups to lobby, but we are funding them to talk about the issue, to talk about what works, to talk about the research, and to educate people. It is very important to make people aware—and that is a role foundations can play. Foundations should also know that there is not just one way to make investments that will end homelessness: there are many different ways.
Q: Are there any new areas of investment for the Trust?
JE: Yes. One area is around youth who are experiencing homelessness or are transitioning out of the state child-welfare system—because there is a significant connection between child-welfare involvement and homelessness. This is an area where more research is needed. We need to explore what the solutions are and if they are the same solutions that work for adults.
The other area we want to focus more on is income. When we talk about people who are experiencing homelessness we are oftentimes talking about men and women who don’t have a lot of work experience, or may need additional education so they can enter a competitive job market. So there is skill building, but there is also a need for on-the-job training, placement help and support for job retention. There are groups doing interesting work around the employment piece, and we want to learn more so we can figure out strategically the best place for us to be around that issue. We have a strong bias that if we are going to get involved, we want to look at the issue from the systems perspective—so we are not just funding individual programs but making sure the public sector is engaged and nonprofits are learning new ways to realize their missions.
Q: From your personal perspective, why are you passionate about solving homelessness?
JE: For me, there is a powerful story about living in a world where no one is lost. Homelessness represents for so many people the end of hope, the hope that things are going to get better. I worked at the Corporation for Supportive Housing for many years. We would talk with tenants of supportive housing, and what was most powerful for them was to have a place where they could lay their head at night, a place where they had their own key and they could come home at the end of the day and put that key in the door. They could finally call something theirs. That is the heart and soul of what this work is all about. It’s about dignity; it’s about respect; it’s about hope. So I feel it’s a privilege to work in a field that is about helping people to regain those things—to regain dignity, respect, and mostly to regain hope.
Melville Charitable Trust is a founding member of Funders Together. Check out our entire network here.
Want to see past featured members? Check out the archive here.
USICH has been instrumental in our efforts to rethink the systems that have allowed homelessness to persist.Read more
We are excited for 2014! Here's a look at what we're doing and how you can plug in.Read more
With limited resources and increasing demand, we have to think about prevention.Read more
Homelessness is more than a lack of a place to sleep tonight. For a young person, it means instability, fear, and often an inability to properly learn and prepare for adulthood. Increasingly, people who work with vulnerable youth are realizing that the lack of a safe and stable home makes it difficult for any other youth-focused program to be successful.
Over the past decade, we have made significant progress is ending and preventing homelessness among adult populations. We have seen reductions in chronic and veteran homeless populations and some promising results around solutions to family homelessness. In many instances, philanthropy has been a catalyst for change at the local and national levels.
In 2015, recognizing funders essential role, and the need for more learning and sharing around youth homelessness, Funders Together launched a two-year community of practice focused on preventing and ending youth homelessness. This community, Foundations for Youth Success (FYS), brought together philanthropic leaders – large national funders as well as those working at the community level – in a community of practice focused on funders’ role in identifying best practices and implementing effective solutions for our young people. Throughout this two-year initiative, members participated in regular virtual meetings and came together in person twice per year.
The link below connects to learnings and resources from Foundations for Youth Success and will be updated as additional materials are finalized.
To join Foundations for Youth Success participants and other funders in continued learning, join FTEH's new Youth Network! Email Tabitha Blackwell at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
From Our Members
Since 2011, preventing and ending youth homelessness in King County has been one of the Raikes Foundation’s three core grantmaking strategies. Learn more about their approach in this resource.
Priority Action Steps to Prevent and End Youth/Young Adult Homelessness: An Implementation Plan (2012) Raikes Foundation / Building Changes
Campion Foundation is guided by the belief that public policy work can have far more significant impact than we could ever do with foundation dollars. Learn more about their journey to advocacy in this resource.
In 2014, The Simmons Foundation hosted a Google Hangout for funders interested in ending LGBTQ youth homelessness. The foundation invited national funders to share why they got involved in LGBTQ youth homelessness, how they got board buy-in, and what risks they were willing to take. The video also features a formerly homeless young person who shares his experience with homelessness in Houston and what supports he wished had been offered to him.
Featured Members Working on Youth Homelessness
Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland- The Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland works to improve the lives of those most in need with special attention to families, women and children living in poverty. The foundation works to end homelessness in Cuyahoga County and to reduce health disparities and improve educational opportunities in Cleveland’s Central Neighborhood. We spoke with Rebecca Gallant, director of communications for the Sisters of Charity Health System, about the Foundation's youth homelessness and affordable housing work and the important role philanthropy has in convening around homelessness.
Miami Homes for All- Miami Homes For All (formerly Miami Coalition for the Homeless) promotes community collaboration to prevent and end homelessness in South Florida through advocacy and philanthropy. Their work concentrates on advocacy, prevention, and informational services to enhance already existing community efforts and fill identifiable gaps.
We spoke with Bobbie Ibarra, Executive Director of Miami Homes For All about the organization's rebranding, its focus on housing, and successful advocacy efforts and their work around youth homelessness.
Data and Solutions Resources
Federal Framework to End Youth Homelessness
February 01, 2013, USICH
The 2012 Amendment to Opening Doors, which includes the Federal Framework to End Youth Homelessness, was developed to specifically address what strategies should be implemented to improve the educational outcomes for children and youth, and the steps that need to be taken to advance the goal of ending youth homelessness by 2020.
Collaboratively with communities across America, USICH and federal partners developed a national vision for what it means to end homelessness, ensuring it is rare, brief, and non-recurring. The Criteria and Benchmarks for Achieving the Goal of Ending Youth Homelessness ensure all communities are working towards that goal.
The Cost of Homelessness
2015, Foldes Consulting, LLC
Foldes Consulting, LLC, studied the economic burden of youth homelessness in Minnesota, focusing on the short- and long-term costs to taxpayers and society. The study examined comprehensive costs of more than 1,400 16-to-24 year olds who were homeless or at risk of becoming homeless who visited YouthLink in 2011. The study found that all annual and support costs for the entire group can be covered if 89 youth (only 6.1% of the total young people in the study) were to earn enough so that they no longer need any public support, beginning at age 20.
A Way Home America Transition Plan- Actions and Strategies to End Youth Homelessness
2016, A Way Home America
As we anticipate the transition of the next presidential administration and new congress we are aiming to communicate in a common voice how to make progress on our goal of ending youth homelessness. To this end, over the spring and summer, the A Way Home America (AWHA) Policy Committee composed a Transition Plan – a document that identifies actions and strategies necessary to prevent and end youth and young adult homelessness. The National Youth Forum on Homelessness offered their input during drafting, input which is incorporated in the final document. The AWHA Steering Committee endorsed this document in July.
The Transition Plan is intended to inform the next Presidential Administration, federal appointees, and members of congress on our collective goals to end youth and young adult homelessness.
Housing First is recognized as an effective and humane approach to ending homelessness. This document looks at how can it work to support young people who experience, or are at risk of, homelessness.
The Age Structure of Contemporary Homelessness: Evidence and Implications for Public Policy
January 2013, University of Pennsylvania
The Age Structure of Contemporary Homelessness: Risk Period or Cohort Effect?
June 2010, University of Pennsylvania
An Emerging Framework for Ending Unaccompanied Youth Homelessness
National Alliance to End Homelessness
National Network for Youth's Comprehensive Framework to End Youth Homelessness
July 2013, National Network for Youth
Costs Associated with First-time Homelessness
March 2010, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Drugs, Homelessness, and Health: Homeless Youth Speak Out About Harm Reduction
2010, The Shout Clinic Harm Reduction Report
Ending Homelessness After Foster Care: Conference Report
October 2009, Common Ground
Identifying and Serving LGBTQ Youth: Case Studies of Runaway and Homeless Youth Program Grantees
February 2014, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Los Angeles Convening on Youth Homelessness: Progress, Gaps, Opportunities, and Challenges
February 8, 2012, The National Alliance to End Homelessness / The California Homeless Youth Project
On the Lifetime Prevalence of Running Away from Home
April 2010, Urban Institute
National Alliance to End Homelessness Resources on Youth Homelessness
The National Alliance to End Homelessness
True Youth Count Toolkit
True Colors Fund
King County Youth of Color Needs Assessment
The Northwest Network of Bisexual, Trans, Lesbian, & Gay Survivors of Abuse
Still looking for more information? Let us know what you're interested in and we'll try to help.