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.
Founded in 2002 by Jeff and Tricia Raikes, The Raikes Foundation invests in youth-serving institutions and systems to make them more effective in supporting and empowering all young people, especially those who have been most marginalized. We spoke with the Foundation to learn about its focus on youth and young adults experiencing homelessness, its various role in advocacy efforts, and the strengthened commitment to enhancing its equity work.
1) Can you give us an overview of the Raikes Foundation and in what capacity it is involved in homelessness issues? How did the Foundation go about making this a priority?
The Raikes Foundation was founded by Jeff and Tricia Raikes in 2002. Everything we do aims to achieve at least one of two goals: breaking down the barriers that stand in the way of young people’s growth and building up the environments in which they live, learn and play.
Our work in education and youth homelessness attempts to change systems that have traditionally been, and continue to be, inequitable. We work at the systems level—to ensure classrooms enable all kinds of children to thrive and to end the flow of young people into homelessness.
Since 2011, preventing and ending unaccompanied youth and young adult homelessness has been a key foundation priority. We have prioritized addressing this issue because we know that if you’re focused on figuring out where you’re going to sleep each night, it is near impossible to focus on doing well in school or planning for career or college.
Unfortunately, there are millions of young people experiencing the crisis of homelessness in our country. We believe ending youth homelessness is possible. We focus on changing the systems that drive young people into homelessness, such as schools, and the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, and we are supporting communities to strengthen their efforts to support young people in crisis. We work at the federal, state and local level to achieve our goal of effectively ending youth homelessness by making it a rare, brief and one-time occurrence for young people.
2) You’ve been a leader in working to end youth homelessness in King County. Why/how did the Foundation come to this work?
Our work in youth homelessness started because of an experience our co-founder Tricia Raikes had one day while driving in Seattle. At an intersection, she noticed a young girl under an overpass surrounded by a handful of older men, and the fear she felt for her in the moment led to her anger and lots of questions about what our community was doing to address youth homelessness.
What we learned after that experience is that there are thousands of young people experiencing homelessness in King County, but that at the time our community lacked a coordinated, systemic response. This was a gap we felt like we could rally the region to address so we pulled our partners together and started making investments to fill the gaps and knit together a coherent system for young people.
3) We talk a lot about homelessness and the intersectionality it has with other areas like health, employment, and education, to name a few. How do you address these intersections in your work?
One of the most direct connections we see is between homelessness and education. More than 1.3 million school children experienced homelessness during the 2015-16 academic year, and we know is that homelessness deeply impacts their ability to learn, grow and succeed as students. In fact, in WA state, only 54 percent of homeless students graduate, compared to 70 percent of low-income students and 79 percent of all students. It’s a vicious cycle because we know that education is key to lifting young people out of homelessness and preventing homelessness. Without a high school diploma, young people are 4.5 more likely to experience homelessness as adults.
That’s why we’re supporting Education Leads Home, a joint campaign of America’s Promise Alliance, Schoolhouse Connection, Civic Enterprises and the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness. The campaign’s goals are to raise homeless students high school graduation rates, as well as increase access to early education and post-secondary completion. It is also why we support Schoolhouse Washington’s efforts here in Washington state, to drive towards similar outcomes locally.
4) The Foundation has recently deepened its commitment to equity work and announced its first Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Lindsay Hill. What led you on this journey to making this a priority? How does this play a role in your grantmaking? What advice do you have for other foundations looking to make a commitment to equity?
Our foundation is committed to advancing equity, both in our strategic work and in our internal operations, because we know that we can’t solve our country’s biggest challenges unless we address the systemic oppression that holds people back. Our best efforts, no matter how well planned or researched, will fall short unless we’re committed to equity and inclusion for all people.
We’ve been on this journey for the past three years, and we learned that we first had to do the hard work of learning together as a team. Now we’re in the process of building skills and examining the impact of our strategies with an equity lens. This includes asking ourselves:
- Are we making intentional investments in strategies that address not just individual barriers but also institutional and structural barriers?
- Do we understand and are we supporting efforts to address how systemic inequity is produced and maintained?
- How can we better support grantee capacity and commitment to equity and inclusion?
- Are we asking our grantees and partners to systematically collect and disaggregate data, as well as systematically gain perspectives of diverse constituent groups, especially youth with lived experience?
We are currently exploring what it means to build a new strategy area where equity is built into the foundation – not an add on. Additionally, we’re taking on internal work including taking steps to change our hiring practices and building a more inclusive culture.
But we didn’t make this shift overnight, and we’re still learning and growing. Other foundations looking to get started should know that making a true commitment to equity is a long, and often bumpy, but ultimately rewarding process. It requires personal vulnerability and trust in your colleagues and a willingness to learn and grow.
5) Raikes Foundation makes an impact on the community outside of providing funds. Can you talk about other roles the Foundation plays to move the needle forward on ending homelessness in King County?
Grant making is just one of the ways we work to drive change, but it’s just one of the tools in our toolbox We also use our voice to raise awareness about the problems we are trying to solve.
We also see a role for ourselves as conveners. We bring together funders and partners in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to learn from each other and align around shared goals and priorities. For example, we co-founded and chair the Youth Funders Group in Seattle, which brings together our local continuum of care, community organizations and funders to collaborate on strategies to end youth homelessness. Homelessness is a complex problem that no one entity is going to solve alone, so collaboration is key.
6) We believe philanthropy has a unique role to play in terms of advocacy and policy work, understanding the limitations in place on some foundations. What are some unique ways you’ve focused on advocacy? What advice do you have for a foundation who is new to this space and looking to become more engaged in advocacy and policy efforts?
There are limitations on what foundations can do in terms of advocacy, but we believe that using our voice as central to achieving our mission. We believe that foundations need to engage in conversations and debates that impact their work, be assertive and understand the restrictions as a guide towards what you can do rather than what you cannot do.
In addition to using our voice, we also fund advocacy organizations. It’s important that people with lived experience be at the table advocating for solutions, and by funding advocacy efforts we can ensure that policymakers hear from the people most impacted by legislation and policies. One of our key grantees from the beginning has been the Mockingbird Society’s Youth Advocates Ending Homelessness chapter, a group of formerly homeless young people who create and advocate for policies to end youth homelessness in WA state.
Our trustees also understand that speaking out can be just as strategic and impactful as the dollars they bring to an issue so they are willing to use their voice to weigh in on debates that will impact the people we’re trying to serve. For example, Jeff Raikes recently wrote an op-ed for the Seattle Times urging the city to focus on what people experiencing homelessness in Seattle truly need, rather than debate half measures and quick fixes. Tricia Raikes often lends her voice to elevate our grantee’s efforts, most recently with the launch of the Education Leads Home campaign.
7) Why did the Foundation decide to become a member of Funders Together to End Homelessness? How has being a member supported your work? In what other ways can Funders Together support your efforts?
Funders Together to End Homelessness is a powerful organization that puts forward our sector’s point of view on how we can solve and not just mange the problem of homelessness. We are powerful because of our collective voice. Being a part of this community allows us to learn from other funders and to act with other funders on pushing for change.
Interested in past featured member profiles? Check out our archive here.