"When all is said and done, I hope we use this as an opportunity to really imagine the things we thought were impossible that are actually possible." -- Jeremie Greer, Executive Director of Liberation in a Generation
There is no racial justice without housing justice. This year’s change in Administration provides philanthropy new opportunities to advocate for policies and practices that are rooted in evidence and justice and a reminder that collaboration between philanthropy and national partners is necessary for our shared goals of justice and liberation.
During the 2021 Funders Forum on March 23 and 24, over 90 funders came together to discuss possibility and imagination. Ending homelessness and creating housing justice will require us to redefine and reimagine what is possible. With this change in Administration, we need to commit to change within our sector: change that is required for us to build a more equitable and just world in which everyone has a safe, affordable home.
Funders Together CEO, Amanda Andere, highlighted this during the Funders Forum: “Real change for me comes at the intersection of hope and boldness. We have to be bold and realize, as my colleague Kelli King Jackson from The Simmons Foundation says, philanthropy is a made-up thing and so we can dismantle and re-imagine ourselves to be more just or maybe even move out of the way entirely and turn over resources to community where they rightfully belong. In the meantime, I think we have an opportunity to move away from our historic approach focused on solving problems and start thinking about understanding power, systems, and structures towards liberation.”
Tuesday, March 23
The Funders Forum opened with acknowledging the stolen land we each live on and reflecting on the cycle of attention and inattention to racism and the pain these cycles cause. Since the virtual convening, racist attacks and murders of Black and Asian people have continued, and we will continue to hold space and fight for justice. We transitioned into the opening plenary began with this framing: the housing and homelessness fields have thus far only been able to make incremental changes toward ending homelessness because we’ve adopted a scarcity mindset. In order to achieve housing justice, we must flip this mindset to one of abundance. In addition to focusing on how policies advance racial justice, we must also work together to ensure our advocacy efforts support one another's.
The opening plenary on Advancing a National Policy Agenda for Housing Justice focused on the America that is possible if and when we lead with racial equity and housing justice, featuring partners from Liberation in a Generation, the National Alliance to End Homelessness, and the National Low Income Housing Coalition. The speakers recognized our success in easing some of the pain of the last year through unprecedented investments in housing and increasing protections for renters. But we were also called to action to be more than an emergency room and to work to cure the disease, using the metaphor shared by Jeremie Greer, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of Liberation in a Generation. "There's a lot of pain that's going to be relieved with the hundreds of billions of dollars going out to stabilize people's housing conditions, but we can't confuse that with curing the disease," he said, asking us to move "toward dismantling the systems of oppression that create the inequality that people experience, building systems of liberation that allow people to have safe, secure, affordable housing."
Mobilizing Local Philanthropy and Supporting Community-Led Vision for Change
Whether through hosting a conversation between policymakers and funders or creating strategic initiatives, the power of funders is greater when they advocate collectively. In our breakout session focused on mobilizing local philanthropy, three funders shared how they are working through formal and informal funder networks to advocate for both immediate and long-term strategies. These networks are engaging policymakers to build multi-year, strategic approaches to homelessness. This conversation demonstrated beautifully that there is no one "right answer" or road map to local funder advocacy.
Our other breakout session focused on supporting grassroots organizers and their vision for change. This conversation covered everything from participatory grantmaking to educating board members and trustees about ideas such as abolition and defunding the police. We had an honest conversation about the tension program officers can feel in navigating differences in politics internally and externally and the importance of still finding ways to support people who are on the ground doing important work.
It is important to note that philanthropy contributes to a cycle of under-funding grassroots organizations that are doing valuable work in community with limited capacity. We hope all of you will take some time to read about Inquilinxs Unidxs Por Justicia (United Renters for Justice) and their organizing work in Minneapolis in this NY Times article: The Tenants Who Evicted Their Landlord, as well as our blog post about five Black and Latinx grassroots organizations addressing housing affordability in California, and support them with large, unrestricted grants.
“The 2021 Funders Forum highlighted that the #1 issue for philanthropy in ending homelessness is getting state and federal funding to disproportionately impacted communities. As United Way Greater Boston is leading a statewide campaign for Housing Justice, I believe this should be our priority and that we should continue to push our current systems to change how they distribute funds inequitably. This feels like the best, most meaningful role for us during this 'new deal' moment in time. I’m grateful to FTEH for pulling together this incredible group of colleagues and national policy experts to create spaces for learning, challenging the status quo and shaping the transformative edge.” --Christi Staples, Vice President, Mind the Gap, United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley
Wednesday, March 24
The second day kicked off with four pop-ups that gave participants the opportunity to hear about work philanthropy and national partners are engaged in that will advance housing justice. Emma Hertz, Director of External Affairs at HealthSpark Foundation shared how they are supporting research to redesign their county’s coordinated entry system to create an equity-centered intake and triage tool that is more culturally responsive and antiracist than their current tool, used by many across the country. Jeanne Fekade-Sellassie, Project Director at Funders for Housing and Opportunity, described the process of their narrative change work that links COVID-19, the housing crisis and our country’s racial reckoning.
Participants also heard from our federal government partners. Highlighting the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s commitment to racial equity, Richard S. Cho, Senior Advisor for Housing Services, shared HUD’s internal process for ensuring resources are available to communities who are most marginalized. We also heard from Anthony Love, Interim Executive Director of US Interagency Council on Homelessness, who reminded us that all homelessness and housing processes and systems must be evaluated through a racial equity lens.
In round table conversations that followed these pop-ups, funders delved into the following questions and topics:
Building Infrastructure for Alignment on Narrative and Messaging Change
- How can we help our communications teams in reaching out to federal agencies like HUD and USICH? What do our foundations need to make connections and build relationship with public funders?
- How can we ensure our messaging shifts the narrative so the public recognizes the link between homelessness and racial inequity?
Working with Continuums of Care to Build More Equitable Homeless Response Systems
- What other communities are moving away from the VI-SPDAT or thinking about redesigning it? How are you as a funder supporting this work?
- As part of this conversation, funders noted the importance of sharing what CoCs are learning and doing across communities, in order to reduce duplicative efforts or missteps. We heard a call for Funders Together to provide a way for philanthropy to share what they're working on.
Supporting COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution and Messaging Efforts
- What is the role of philanthropy in helping to make sure that people experiencing homelessness who get the vaccine have somewhere to rest and recover given the vaccine’s side effects?
- How can we ensure housing and resources are available after folks get their vaccine?
- How can we assist efforts to ensure that vaccine resources in communities of color are given to members of that community?
How Philanthropy Can Support HUD on Advancing Racial Equity in Preventing and Ending Homelessness
- We asked funders in this session what they're working on that could be scaled at the national level and how it will help advance racial equity and racial justice. Participants in this conversation talked about cash assistance and cash transfers to people experiencing homelessness, specifically youth and young adults, as well as the idea to require CoCs to have a youth homelessness subcommittee staffed by at least 50% young people who can set policy and program recommendations.
- There was also a suggestion that the federal government find ways to partner with local funders to test new or emerging models, including ones that are expanding from only providing services to including housing.
A New Deal to End Youth Homelessness
During the closing plenary, Marcella Middleton, Co-director, A Way Home America, and Kevin Solarte, Director of Cross-System Initiatives, NIS Center for Housing Justice, talked about the New Deal to End Youth Homelessness, a federal policy proposal to move us from reform to transformation. Marcella shared that “In the future where we have reached transformation, every youth would be housed in the same day they need housing.”
Transformation is at the heart of these policy recommendations, which includes a housing pillar where:
- Congregate shelters no longer being used and have been replaced with crisis housing
- Housing is made an entitlement for youth and young adults under 30
- The support services that youth need are also made an entitlement
- Intersecting systems like legal systems, child welfare, immigration systems transform in just ways.
The New Deal to End Youth homelessness also offers a roadmap to transform how young people, particularly Black, Brown, Indigenous, and LGBTQ young people, are supported in our society. Of note is that in creating the New Deal to End Youth Homelessness, youth and young adults with lived expertise were involved in the process from its start, and community engagement was integral to the creation of the New Deal.
"The Forum was a wonderful opportunity to gather with like-minded individuals who have a very similar mission-- to improve the health of the community through housing advocacy and justice. I enjoyed hearing from partners about how to truly create an equitable housing system through community engagement. What resonated with me were Marcella and Kevin quantifying the amount of work that needs to be undertaken, from the number of co-creation meetings to the volume of participants and youth/young adult leaders engaged in this process. I learned that while outcomes are important, the process to achieve said outcomes are equally important and should be thoroughly documented. The process to achieve housing justice requires time and attention to be done right and that true systems transformation means engagement from all levels--from the grassroots to the grasstops." --Anira Khlok, Community and Homeless Health Project Manager, CommonSpirit Health
"The Virtual Funders Forum was eye-opening. I was extremely excited to see people come together and have this every needed discussion that, in my eyes, has been left out of the homeless conversation for far too long. Housing is a human right, and I'm so happy to see funders come together and analyze what that really means and how they can help make it real." --Carmen Noyola, Zoning & Land Use Consultant, Youth Transition Funders Group
Real Change Comes When We Take Power Away from Oppressive Systems
Amanda Andere shared a lesson from Jonathan Lykes, a racial justice organizer and one of our partners, who leads all of his work with racial justice and Black liberation. Jonathan says real change comes when we take power away from oppressive systems, bring many people with lived expertise to question those systems, push the edge of what is considered possible, and shift political debate to include more radical possibilities.
Amanda asked participants to reflect on these questions, which we hope you’ll reflect on throughout the year:
- What is your role to fund the environment and ecosystem of advocacy, organizers, and activist to make the above possible?
- Where do you need to be bold and move out of the way and/or change your role as a gatekeeper to power and resources?
- How can Funders Together push you and your organization on your journey of dismantling the current constraints of philanthropy towards liberation and justice?