On February 7 and 8, the Racial Equity and Homelessness Summit convened to address the connection between racial inequity and homelessness with attendees from across the country.
Kollin Min, Senior Program Officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who co-sponsored the convening with the Raikes Foundation, recaps the highlights of the two-day event and funders who were present share their thoughts, takeaways, and responses to what they learned at the summit.
On February 7 and 8, over 120 funders, policy makers, advocates, and homeless housing and service providers from around the United States met in Seattle for what is believe to be the first national summit on the topic of racial equity and homelessness. The convening, facilitated by the Center for Social Innovation, sought to shine a spotlight on the disturbing fact that people of color are dramatically more likely to experience homelessness in the United States than whites even when controlled for poverty and that this gross inequity is the direct result of systemic racism in a variety of contexts. Although this disproportionality has been long observed, increasingly sophisticated data analysis is beginning to more thoroughly reveal the depth of the problem, and the degree to which our systems must address the racial roots of homelessness in a more direct and targeted way. Until we confront the problems that lead to and perpetuate homelessness, such as housing discrimination, employment discrimination, and disproportionality in the criminal justice and child welfare systems, our efforts to improve our crisis response systems so that they permanently house those experiencing homelessness more quickly and effectively will be doomed to fail.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was proud to sponsor this convening along with our partners at the Raikes Foundation, and we were humbled by the shared commitment that all participants expressed towards seriously addressing the racial injustices that lead to and perpetuate homelessness throughout the two days of presentations and breakout sessions. More than ten different communities from Atlanta to Dallas to King County Washington, along with representatives from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and other federal agencies, developed specific action plans with systemic priorities to address the most pressing racial disparities showing up in their own homelessness data systems, and left the summit with renewed energy towards implementing these plans.
Significantly, Funders Together to End Homelessness leadership at the summit attracted participation from representatives of over ten private foundations. During the second day of the summit, these funders engaged in a robust discussion about how the philanthropic sector can support and lead efforts to more specifically address racial inequalities as part of their homelessness funding. This work, which Funders Together will continue to lead, will require ongoing support and commitment from its partners, and the foundations in attendance have committed to continuing to speak out about the intertwined nature of systemic racism and homelessness and the need for targeted solutions. What follows below are a few observations from funders at this remarkable convening:
The Racial Equity and Homelessness Summit far exceeded my expectations on every level. I appreciated that Day 1 included a mix of funders, providers, and government leaders. Over the two days, attendees dug deep and challenged themselves to think above their 'day jobs' to consider how to work toward real measures of change for people of color. Watching a room full of 'program thinkers' stretch to reach higher, outcomes-focused goals was inspiring. I felt privileged to have space to safely talk about racism in an explicit way and be pushed to imagine a world when centering race will be safe. My hope is that moving forward, both funders and providers will disaggregate their local data and center race in solutions to end homelessness like never before.
~ Kelli King-Jackson, Senior Program Officer, The Simmons Foundation
Joining and engaging with other funders at the Summit allowed us to learn together and think strategically about how to address racial inequities in ending homelessness. There are many opportunities for philanthropy to lead in and support this work and become essential change makers in this space. We need to figure out long term strategies to address systemic racism as it relates to homelessness, but there are immediate steps we can take. We can train staff and board members at homeless service agencies and foundations to recognize systemic racism and its impacts, provide professional development for emerging leaders of color, and foster and participate in community conversations about systemic racism and help people understand its impact on homelessness.
~ Debbie Reznick, Senior Program Officer, Polk Bros Foundation
“The SPARC report served as yet further evidence of the fact that we cannot end homelessness without acknowledging the prevalence of discrimination at work in people of color's lives, which time and time again, results in disparate impact from even some of our most well-intentioned interventions to address homelessness. Both the report and Summit re-affirmed for me the need for community-centered practices to be at the heart of our work to address homelessness, such that we are never without the voice, lens, and involvement of people of color with lived experience - the proverbial "Nothing about us, without us!” We hope to become a SPARC community and have commenced our commitment to this work by commissioning additional research into the Latinx and Native American communities experience of homelessness in the 7-county Metro Denver region, which will add to the already compelling data we have of African Americans' experience of homelessness.”
~ M. Julie Patiño, Director of Basic Human Needs, The Denver Foundation
“After learning about the SPARC report and looking at the data, we had a better understanding of how important is to be explicit in talking about race. We tend to start there but then conversations become more generalized. The Summit helped us stay focused and center people of color. This practice needs to become a natural part of our work. While it is true that other people experience homelessness, this is about people of color and their disparities.
The convening also helped me understand what I can do in my day-to-day work that can propel addressing racial inequities in ending homelessness, such as using data because when you present the numbers, they are facts that are hard to dispute, despite different opinions on the topic.
~ Jennifer Teunon, Executive Director, The Medina Foundation
I thoroughly enjoyed the philanthropy breakout session and am looking forward to continued discussion and action. During the Summit, I think the right conclusions were brought forward regarding our role in helping the field move some energy away from a crisis response focus and toward helping understand its role in the larger issue of racial equity. The event brought up some thought provoking questions that I took back to my foundation as a way to start identifying opportunities to address racial inequity - What has generated this crisis response? What is philanthropy’s role in helping the field respond?
~ Susan Thomas, Senior Program Officer, Melville Charitable Trust
The Summit provided an open platform for funders to think innovatively about how we address and approach racial equity in our work. Philanthropy needs to be explicit and intentional if we’re going to eliminate racial disparities in homelessness. If we resort to talking about the challenge in color-blind ways, we won't identify specific and targeted solutions for those who need them most. Instead we’ll continue to recycle the same solutions that work well for some, and not at all for others. Without a focus on racial equity we won’t interrupt the historical, institutionalized, and implicit policies and practices that are leading to this disproportionality. As funders we can be “color bold” and approach everything we do with an equity lens, from strategy development to grantmaking.
~ Katie Hong, Director, Youth Homelessness, Raikes Foundation
Twelve percent of the US population is African-American, but African-Americans make up 24% of the population living in extreme poverty and 43% of the population experiencing homelessness. Likewise, Native Americans, while just 0.8% of the total population are similarly over represented in the population experiencing homelessness, according to the SPARC report presented at the Summit. These data points demonstrate the urgency of taking the racial equity conversation to strategic action. The Summit elevated an inspiring array of ideas to increase economic mobility, improve outcomes from the criminal justice and child welfare systems, reduce discrimination against housing voucher holders, and reduce evictions as strategies to prevent homelessness.
This year is the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act this year, an important reminder of the critical role of homeownership as a way to increase wealth, particularly for African-American and other minority households. Wealth creation is essential to breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty and disadvantage that leaves too many people of color vulnerable to the trauma of homelessness.
~Joe Weisbord, Director, Credit & Housing Access, Fannie Mae
What’s Next for Funders Together: Two years ago Funders Together made a commitment to address racial inequity in our strategic goals. In addition to providing ongoing resources and incorporating racial equity in to all of our programs, we will lead our members on a learning journey that will result in action and real change in grantmaking to end homelessness with a racial equity lens. We have also formed a Racial Equity Working Group made up of our board and members. Following feedback from the philanthropy session at the Racial Equity & Homelessness Summit, Funders Together will be developing priorities for a learning agenda that will engage both funders who are just starting this journey and those who are more advanced in addressing racial inequity.