As we work together as a national community to collectively educate each other about exciting new developments in the effort to permanently end homelessness, it’s important to step back and learn, as well, from a global vantage point.
As we work together as a national community to collectively educate each other about exciting new developments in the effort to permanently end homelessness, it’s important to step back and learn, as well, from a global vantage point. Luckily, Funders Together was able to do just that last week, when our Board Chair David Wertheimer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Board Member Martha Toll of the Butler Family Fund each met with the Honorable Brendan O’Connor, Australia’s Minister for Housing and Homelessness and a member of the Australian Parliament. At what we hope will be just the beginning of a vital, on-going dialogue, Funders Together learned about the important work taking place in Australia and shared more of our experiences here in the U.S., specifically focusing on the power of our sector to help promote solutions to homelessness through systems change.
Keenly interested in our philanthropic sector’s efforts to prevent and end homelessness, O’Connor was joined by senior Australian government officials on a learning mission that included meetings with well-known national champions such as Nan Roman, President of the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) and Sean Donovan, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Funders Together emphasized the ways in which the American philanthropic sector seeks to promote catalytic investments that support advocacy, technical assistance, and research to promote innovative, promising practices such as Rapid Re-Housing and Housing First. Crucial to our exchange were discussions on the importance of ensuring that funding produces measurable outcomes, as well as exploring the important roles that various sectors of our society have to play in ending homelessness—including nonprofits, corporations, government and philanthropy.
Sharing a similar federal system, both the U.S. and Australia rely on states and localities to implement national policy and to effectively distribute federal funding. Among other shared struggles, both the U.S. and Australia are faced with insufficient supplies of affordable housing and an acute shortage of federal housing subsidies. Likewise, both countries have a high proportion of homelessness among minority populations – especially indigenous communities.
Due to a more limited philanthropic sector with more narrowly focused interests in Australia, the delegation from “Down Under” was interested to learn about the tremendous range and variability of foundations that sit at our Funders Together table. That foundations in the United States can have a significant impact greater than their size or resources might suggest was a source of particular interest and intrigue. Similarly, our Australian colleagues were also curious to learn about the unique role our sector can play in supporting advocacy activities that help to shift both policies and practices.
It’s true that it doesn’t always take a large funder like the Gates Foundation to make change happen– it’s far more frequent in this country that foundations with limited resources – such as the Frees Foundation of Houston, Texas - are leading successful efforts to re-align public sector resources in order to best meet the needs of the homeless population.
We thank the Honorable Brendan O’Connor and Australian government officials for the opportunity to learn about the multi-faceted, country-specific issues surrounding ending homelessness, and we look forward to more opportunities to exchange ideas in the New Year and beyond. Sharing strategies with our local, national, and global partners undoubtedly affords us the opportunity to create new ideas, strengthen relationships, and encourage communities to come together to permanently end homelessness.
Martha is the founding executive director of the Butler Family Fund, a path-breaking philanthropy focused on ending homelessness, abolishing the death penalty, and ending the sentence of juvenile life without parole.
David 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.