This year’s Funders Institute, held virtually on September 28-30, was an exchange of ideas and knowledge, weaving a web of knowledge centered on housing justice through every plenary and breakout session. Across three days, the theme of narrative connected conversations about slavery, critical race theory, grassroots advocacy, and whose stories get told.
Connecting History to Present Day
We kicked off the Funders Institute with a fireside chat between Clint Smith, author of How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America and Martha Toll, author of Three Muses and Funders Together board member. In this powerful conversation, they talked about the spaces we move through every day and the effect of not understanding the complete history of those spaces. New history to many participants was learning about the history of New York City as the second largest location of the slave trade in America and Wall Street’s origins as a physical wall built to keep Indigenous communities out.
When asked what patriotism means to him as a Black man, Smith responded that for 250 years, Black people have been fighting to be a part of an America that excluded them. Those people built a foundation for a future that most of them knew they might not ever see. To be a human in this world, not just a Black man in this country, means that “we don’t do things to see the fruits of our labor, we do it so that someday someone will.”
After our keynote, we held four breakout conversations, one of which about the intersection of attacks on critical race theory with housing justice goals. Nina Catalano, Senior Planner at Tipping Point Community, shared with us her reflection from the conversation on critical race theory and housing justice:
“I've been sitting with Monique King-Viehland's offerings from Day 1 of the Institute. We need to know our history, she said, in order to give meaning to the glaring racial disparities we see in our communities and homelessness systems. Without knowing our history, we lack context to understand what we see. We are bound to draw improper conclusions and implement policies that are ineffective at best, or compound harm at worst. These dynamics also show up in our work around homelessness prevention and inflow: Are we just scooping out water from a boat that's sinking, without fixing the boat? Can we do better?”
Learning from Other Funders
On Day 2 of the Funders Institute, participants connected with and learned from other funders in our network. We had four of our members share about their work related to equitable evaluation, an affordable housing initiative, administering federal resources and preventing evictions, and pushing a policy platform for justice-oriented reentry. These short talks are always a powerful way for funders across the country to hear the breadth of work that Funders Together members are doing to prevent and end homelessness and interact with peers that they may not have an opportunity to otherwise.
Paula Carvalho, Program Officer for Youth Homelessness at the Raikes Foundation, shared:
“I really enjoyed hearing from Michael Parkhurst of the Meyer Memorial Trust on what they’re doing to support equitable grantmaking. He specifically mentioned not cutting corners with funding staffing. Our non-profit partners are doing the good work to support our unhoused neighbors and they shouldn’t have to nickel and dime their operations. I also loved when he said, ‘The clock and calendar aren’t always aligned with equity’… AMEN!”
You can read more about each of these four short talks on the 2021 Funders Institute event page and also find resources such as Meyer Memorial Trust’s report on Moving the Needle: A Reflection on Five Years of Investment in Oregon's Affordable Housing Landscape and Trinity Church Wall Street’s Faith Communities for Just Reentry Policy Platform.
Changing the Narrative about Homelessness
In preparation for our third and final day, we asked participants to reflect on how power and narrative are connected and examples of messaging campaigns outside of homelessness and housing that have been successful.
We heard from several narrative change experts and researchers, including Dr. Tiffany Manuel, President and CEO of TheCaseMade, who reminded us about why we need to focus on changing the homelessness narrative in the first place:
“I appreciated hearing from Dr. Tiffany Manuel and her statement about the importance of changing the status quo narrative about personal responsibility (people are homeless because they’re addicted to drugs and want to live on the streets) to identifying values that focus on social responsibility (what can we do to support our unhoused neighbors?).” – Paula Carvalho, Program Officer for Youth Homelessness, Raikes Foundation
Sarah Armour-Jones, Director of Communications at Melville Charitable Trust, and Marisol Bello, Director of the new Housing Narrative Lab, presented findings from dial-testing homelessness messaging. One of their core recommendations: establish the shared value. One example of this is the message: “No matter what we look like or where we come from, most of us want to provide for our families and know that hardship won’t mean homelessness.”
We also heard research from Invisible People on What America Believes About Homelessness. Mark Horvath of Invisible People; Mike Dickerson of Ktown for All, and Barb Poppe of Barb Poppe and Associates talked about the direct line between how the public views homelessness and the policy choices leaders make and the role philanthropy can play in supporting more effective messaging to close that gap. They also stressed the urgency for this work to turn into action due to the growing sentiments from communities who support the use of police-based action to address homelessness. The time is now to use this research to reach the hearts and minds of the public to help move policies that will create solutions that center people with lived expertise.
We need to really understand the messages the public are receiving/seeing and how it shapes their paradigm around homelessness in order to move towards building public will to end it. @hardlynormal @invisiblepeople #FTEH2021 pic.twitter.com/BexX6GH8Af— Funders Together (@funderstogether) September 30, 2021
Funders Together is so appreciative of all our speakers, experts, and participants who came together to create a cohesive learning arc centered on racial justice, history, and narrative change over the course of this three-day event. If you attended the 2021 Funders Institute, what reflections do you have? We’d love to know.