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Why I Appreciate Being Tired on January 24


In the early hours of the morning of January 24, I once again joined with hundreds of other volunteers here in Seattle and King County as we fanned out across the region to count the number of people who are homeless in our communities.

In the early hours of the morning of January 24, I once again joined with hundreds of other volunteers here in Seattle and King County as we fanned out across the region to count the number of people who are homeless in our communities.  Our work mirrored similar counts done by thousands of volunteers across the nation.  The count was conducted between 2:00 and 5:00 a.m., because those we encounter at this time wandering the streets, or asleep in a doorway, or riding the bus all night are most likely those who have no place to call their home.

At the Gates Foundation, we focus much of our local work on ending family homelessness in Western Washington.  The data as reported by the state is promising: Since 2007, the numbers suggest that the number of families who are homeless across the state has decreased by 29.2%.  In King, Pierce and Snohomish counties – which are the focus of our efforts – family homelessness decreased 24.4% between 2012 and 2013.  While many argue that these numbers represent a significant undercount of those who are homeless, our local data reflects some of the most promising decreases in the nation.

But when I was out on the street encountering homeless people in the middle of the night, I realized that our work won’t be done until the numbers approach zero.

In my daily job, I frequently encounter people who believe that we will never end homelessness in America.  If, by saying that, you mean that there will always be a mom who must grab her kids and flee into the night from an abusive spouse, or a family that loses their housing as the result of an economic or health crisis, I can’t disagree.  But what I mean by ending homelessness is a little different: We can, and will, get to the point in this country when homelessness is relatively rare, short in duration, and easily resolved.  That means that fewer families will become homeless, the length of time they are homeless will become shorter and shorter, and pathways to housing stability won’t be hard to find.

We are already making progress on these fronts.  Coordinated Entry systems are creating identifiable pathways to assistance, and can prioritize those with the greatest needs.  Rapid Re-Housing is a promising approach that moves families more quickly from crisis to a permanent home.  Tailored services – including linkages to better jobs and career paths – are helping families use housing stability as the springboard to self-sufficiency.

I faced a busy workday on Friday, after being out on the street all night.  I was tired all day.  But I only had to wander the streets one night a year.  Many people who are homeless have to do that every night.  They face days no less busy than mine; being homeless is a full-time job in and of itself.  The challenge of staying alive has to be far more difficult than what I get to do every day.

The exhaustion I face after the Point In Time homeless count serves as a poignant reminder to me that our work will not be complete until I can say, at the end of my one night a year on the street, that I didn’t see anyone I could identify as homeless.

David_Wertheimer_2012a.jpgDavid 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. Find him at @DavidWSeattle.

Photo credit: Gates Foundation.


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We joined Funders Together because we believe in the power of philanthropy to play a major role in ending homelessness, and we know we have much to learn from funders across the country.

-Christine Marge, Director of Housing and Financial Stability at United Way of Greater Los Angeles

I am thankful for the local partnerships here in the Pacific Northwest that we’ve been able to create and nurture thanks to the work of Funders Together. Having so many of the right players at the table makes our conversations – and all of our efforts – all the richer and more effective.

-David Wertheimer, Deputy Director at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Very often a lack of jobs and money is not the cause of poverty, but the symptom. The cause may lie deeper in our failure to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities, in a lack of education and training, in a lack of medical care and housing, in a lack of decent communities in which to live and bring up their children.

-President Lyndon B. Johnson, 1964 State of the Union Address

Funders Together has given me a platform to engage the other funders in my community. Our local funding community has improved greatly to support housing first models and align of resources towards ending homelessness.

-Leslie Strnisha, Vice President at Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland

Our family foundation convenes local funders and key community stakeholders around strategies to end homelessness in Houston. Funders Together members have been invaluable mentors to us in this effort, traveling to our community to share their expertise and examples of best practices from around the nation.

-Nancy Frees Fountain, Managing Director at The Frees Foundation

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