Funders from a dozen states gathered for a Funders Forum in Washington DC on July 12 prior to the annual conference of the National Alliance to End Homelessness to discuss philanthropy’s role in implementing Opening Doors.
Funders from a dozen states gathered for a Funders Forum in Washington DC on July 12 prior to the annual conference of the National Alliance to End Homelessness to discuss philanthropy’s role in implementing Opening Doors: the (first- ever) Federal Strategic Plan to End Homelessness.
US Interagency Council on Homelessness Executive Director Barbara Poppe and Deputy Director Anthony Love attended the forum, sponsored by FundersTogether and moderated by Bob Hohler of the Melville Charitable Trust. The session included panelists Martha Toll of the Butler Family Fund and David Wertheimer of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
“We already know what works and we have to do it,” Hohler said, emphasizing the importance of focused grant-making on proven solutions to ending, not managing, homelessness.
Poppe advised philanthropy to provide local leadership in implementation of Plans to End Homelessness. “There are over 300 plans in existence. Each one is different. But the most important thing about a Plan is that it is implemented, not sit on a shelf. The best plans include clear accountability, dedicated resources, regular collection and reporting of data, and clear timelines.
“Local funders can bring stakeholders to the table to review those plans in light of current opportunities and challenges, and push towards effective implementation strategies. For example, funders can influence local leaders to promote Housing First, not Housing Readiness programs. Funders are in our communities to stay, can provide financial incentives and leverage, and can speak with an independent voice. Funders play a critical role in building and maintaining the political will it requires to address this critical community issue.”
David Wertheimer noted that Opening Doors calls for both targeted resources to end homelessness and better utilization of mainstream resources. “There’s a need to focus on what we can do short term in the next 12 – 18 months, and what it will take to improve our systems longer-term. Changing mainstream systems to better serve vulnerable populations is going to require changes to system structure, system capacity, and eligibility criteria – just one example of this is how Medicaid eligibility criteria will need to be structured to serve individuals and families experiencing homelessness with preventive care that replaces costly emergency care, in each of the 50 State Medicaid plans.”
We need to think of our investments as catalytic opportunities to promote the early development of integrated responses or the necessary next steps that reach beyond traditional interventions in the fight to end homelessness on the local and regional level… We need to “just do it” – we must act – and Opening Doors gives us that unprecedented opportunity.
Martha Toll, speaking on behalf of smaller foundations, made the point that funders can play vital roles that are not dependent on making mega grants. She reported that local funders were convening local providers, policy makers and administrators to plan programs that aid vulnerable families with HHS Emergency Contingency Funds that have been made available in the absence of TANF dollars. Small funders can also support advocacy work that reflects the interagency spirit of the national plan.
Poppe suggested that in the immediate term funders can work locally with their grantees to be sure all are implementing best practices, all are reporting data to the local Homeless Management Information System, and all are working with program participants to access all public benefits for which they are eligible. Her colleague, Anthony Love, added that funders have an essential role in building local capacity to connect their grantees with best practices from around the nation, to address shortages of local know-how (in particular, skilled staffing shortages), and to support advocacy on the state and local level. A key goal: to align state housing and service resources and make them accessible to the most vulnerable.
Bob Hohler led a very engaged and lively discussion that focused on specific challenges and opportunities for funders willing to promote the national plan in their communities. He said that the Funders Together board was hard at work in planning initiatives and programs to support these efforts.
Wertheimer concluded the panel discussion with this comment: “We hear that philanthropy needs to fund what government can’t or won’t fund. In practice that means we need to think of our investments as catalytic opportunities to promote the early development of integrated responses or the necessary next steps that reach beyond traditional interventions in the fight to end homelessness on the local and regional level. The new federal plan indicates clearly our government’s top priorities in this fight. To be maximally effective, we all need to work to ensure our community’s goals are aligned with those of the Plan. And most of all we need to “just do it” – we must act – and Opening Doors gives us that unprecedented opportunity.”