A national network of funders supporting strategic, innovative, and effective solutions to homelessness

2018 Funders Institute: Reflections From The Day


In July at the 2018 Funders Institute, attendees gathered to share what they are learning about homelessness prevention, including what it is and how to work effectively with other systems to really end homelessness. The highly interactive day included a panel discussion, speed networking on what we’re each learning in our work, roundtable discussions, and opportunity to connect with multiple national leaders.

This year’s Institute was of particular interest to the Pohlad Family Foundation as, for the first time in our 20-year history, we have a singular strategic focus on housing stability with the goal to prevent and end homelessness in the Twin Cities. The importance of prevention is clear. How to best support it, however, is where we were excited to connect with others to learn more.


To get the right answer, you have to ask the right question. Katie Hong of Raikes Foundation did just that by kicking off the day posing great questions about our shared interest in developing upstream efforts to prevent homelessness:

  • How do you most effectively target?
  • What outcome measures should we look at?
  • What are effective strategies to bring in other system leaders?
  • How do you learn and adapt?
  • How do we address structural barriers?
  • How do we shine light on how racial inequities are produced and maintained?

Katie’s framing questions lead to a great panel discussion, and carried into discussion in speed networking, and systems roundtable discussions.  From these discussions and interactions, some of the main takeaway from Funder’s Institute that stuck with me included:

1) The importance of growing insight into the “inflows” into homelessness.  Effective prevention strategies start with deepening understanding of the circumstances faced by individuals and families just prior to experiencing homelessness.  Panel members spoke to how insights into “inflows” can inform targeted approaches, outreach and engagement within systems and communities who could have been more responsive to early signs of housing instability.  Jasmin Hayes spoke about this as a need for greater “collective responsibility” for housing stability across systems and that “often we’re serving some of the same families at different points in their lives,” while another example was shared in speed networking on Washington State’s goal of “by 2021, no young person will be discharged from a public system into homelessness.”

2) Targeted efforts that “give people what they need.” Panel member Jennifer Loving spoke to efforts in Santa Clara County that were streamlining access to direct financial assistance through coordinated entry for families in crisis, and how we simply should “give people what they need.”  As she put it: “You don’t show up to the emergency room and get offered a Vitamin B shot, but often this is what families face in our response. When families show up needing emergency financial assistance, we should give them emergency financial help.” 

This, combined with increasingly sophisticated tools to assess needs, resolvability, and measure effectiveness of prevention strategies offer new opportunities for communities target limited resources while giving people what they need to resolve their housing crisis.

3) Importance of good data and data systems.  Panel members spoke to the power of data, and “not underestimating” the insight that data can offer to prevention strategies.  In a roundtable discussion, Beth Sandor of Community Solutions suggested, “you can’t do good prevention work without good data,” speaking specifically to Built for Zero’s efforts to understand what upstream systems had touched veterans before becoming homeless. The roundtable dug deep into how data offers opportunities to “patch holes in adjacent systems,” create “inflow and outflow dashboards,” track progress on “shared aims and month over month reductions,” and that “data unlocks what is really happening with inflows and causes… without it, we’re left to anecdotal and political views about why people become homeless.”

4) Equity and institutional racism.  Implicit bias and institutional racism were widely identified as core, structural barriers to effectively ending homelessness, and that inequities are clearly a result of design.  Russell Johnson of HealthSpark Foundation, shared Montgomery County’s equity efforts and engagement of Jeff Olivet and the Center for Social Innovation’s SPARC Initiative, to do an implicit bias audit of more than 500 pages of the county’s policies and procedures, highlighting how deeply entrenched institutional racism is.  New Federal priorities toward equity and racial disparities were shared by Jemine Bryon, HUD Deputy Assistant Secretary for Special Needs, demonstrating added recognition of and commitment to addressing disparities at the Federal level. The Institute ended with participants reflecting on our own racial equity journeys, highlighting the opportunity for members to participate in upcoming programming focused on addressing racial inequities in housing and homelessness, including a racial equity focused community of practice on how to best promote equity in our work to end homelessness. 

Connecting with peers has been valuable to our work as we learn how to be effective grant makers and leaders in this field. The opportunity to learn and network through programming like the Funders Institute continues to be something the Pohlad Family Foundation looks forward to as a member of Funders Together!

Funders Together would like to invite you to join us for the first in a series of programming around racial equity in housing and homelessness. On October 25th at 2pm ET, Marc Dones and Jeff Olivet will provide an overview of these findings and share what they mean for the field of homelessness. To learn more or register, visit the webinar page

Brian Paulson is a Senior Program Office at the Pohlad Family Foundation joining the foundation in March 2014 with 15 years of experience in the social sector, serving children and families living in poverty through direct practice, developing and managing programs, and grantmaking.  Brian has been involved in a number of systems change efforts locally and nationally, focused on improving income and housing results for families and youth. 


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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