The 2022 Funders Institute marked our first in-person convening since early 2020 with more than 40 participants representing nearly 30 philanthropic organizations. On July 25-27, we gathered in Washington, D.C. in conjunction with the National Conference on Ending Homelessness to examine timely issues impacting housing justice efforts and policy across the country.
Over the course of three days, attendees connected through small group discussions around narrative change, challenged their understanding of what abolition is in relation to housing justice work, and heard from people with lived expertise about what authentic partnerships that truly shift power look like.
Read on for a recap our time together:
Monday, July 25
Housing Justice is the Solution to Ending Homelessness
The 2022 Funders Institute kicked off with our CEO, Amanda Andere, introducing Funders Together’s new Strategic Framework and what it means for our work an organization and a collective movement. She also announced that Funders Together would donate a portion of what was spent on the Funders Institute to a local Indigenous organization to go beyond simply acknowledging stolen land and live into our values of putting action and resources behind our words.
Ann Oliva, the new CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH), joined us and provided opening remarks focused on her vision for NAEH’s work moving forward, with racial justice and people with lived experience at the center of all they do.
These two remarks set the stage for the event by being explicit about what it will take to achieve housing justice: through an unapologetic racial justice approach and the authentic partnership with people with lived expertise in this work.
View the recording of Amanda's remarks.
Deep Dives on Bringing Narrative Change Research, Advocacy, and Philanthropy Together
Our first session of the Funders Institute focused on small group conversations with narrative change and messaging experts from the Housing Narrative Lab, Invisible People, Community Change, and TheCaseMade.
During these roundtables, participants discussed how philanthropy should support narrative change efforts as part of our work for housing justice. Some key takeaways from these roundtable conversations include:
- While narrative research is widely available, the implementation of this research is where support is needed. Many grassroots organizations don’t have dedicated communications staff or the funding for local messaging campaigns, and philanthropy can support implementation through flexible funding for capacity (whether it be in-house or through consultants) and through convening all community partners together specifically around narrative strategies.
- Misinformed public and political sentiments about homelessness contribute to policies that criminalize homelessness, which we are increasingly seeing across the country. We must be willing to dedicate the time, energy, and resources to shifting the narrative to gain public will and put pressure on elected officials, and this change does not happen in a few grant cycles.
- Narrative change isn’t the end goal. It is a crucial tool to secure policy wins and public support around housing justice as a pathway to ending homelessness. Philanthropy should provide flexible funding for narrative and messaging initiatives and use best practices and research in its own communications ranging from op-eds by philanthropic leaders and trustees to supporting convenings specific to narrative.
Alternatives to Policing in our Vision for Housing Justice
Funders Together’s revised mission statement explicitly states that we do our work through love and disruption. To push ourselves and our members, we invited Roshan Bliss, an organizer, trainer, facilitator, and consultant from Denver, to speak about abolition and ending homelessness through an abolitionist framework.
Bliss described that abolition gives us language to acknowledge that the systems we rely on are fundamentally oppressive and because they are intentionally structured as such they must be dismantled. It is essential, and even practical, to envision a world free from the injustices we’re see and experience.
He reminded us that laws that criminalize homelessness are discriminatory - both in intent and impact. Instead of providing solutions, they are designed to move those who are unsheltered out of the public sight and are more directly targeted towards Black and brown people experiencing homelessness because these laws are rooted in Jim Crow laws. If we are committed to housing justice, we must reconsider how law enforcement is currently engaged with the housing and homelessness systems and their overall function within society.
Bliss highlighted a non-law enforcement approach to responding to emergency calls in Denver called Support Team Assisted Response (STAR). In this person-centered model, when a “low-level” 911 call is placed, a behavioral health professional and paramedic is sent to the person in need instead of law enforcement. A recent study found a more than 30% reduction in reported crimes in the first six months of the pilot and call responses cost four times less than typical law enforcement response. The STAR model is just one effective pathway towards abolition and a more just society.
So what can philanthropy do?
- Invest in ways that will return resources to communities so that they have the agency to design and build community on their own terms.
- Fund community organizers, service providers, and advocacy organizations to work together to stand up alternatives to policing and protect the community members who are the most marginalized.
Watch the recording of Roshan's presentation.
Tuesday, July 26
Creating New Tables for Systems Transformation: Partnerships to Shift Power to People with Lived Experience
We gathered on Tuesday for a session focused on how we can truly and authentically shift power and resources to people with lived experience to transform systems. We had the privilege of hearing a conversation with Donald Whitehead, National Coalition for the Homeless; Dr. LaMont D. Green, Technical Assistance Collaborative (TAC) and WA State Lived Experience Coalition; Phoebe VanCleefe, True Colors United; and Biana Carter, Racial Equity in Philanthropy Fund.
A few highlights from this conversation:
- “Centering” is becoming jargon and we must be specific about what we mean when we say this. Even this well-intentioned value can be performative and cause additional harm if we are not careful. Instead of “centering” people, the real conversation should be around how we can shift power and resources to people who are most impacted.
- We must move away from paternalistic actions and instead provide the accommodations that people express they need in order be involved. This could be tangible like transportation or childcare, or holistic like the creation of a safe environment.
- VanCleefe pointed out that often, young people aren’t seen as someone with lived expertise due to ageist ideology of who can be experts. Youth and young people may need different accommodations, but aren’t any less of experts.
One conversation thread explored the difference between having “lived expertise” versus “lived experience.” Both are important lenses, and we should be listening for the nuances between the two. Dr. Green reminded us that turning the trauma of homelessness into purpose requires an analysis of the systems involved and that lived experience becomes lived expertise through healing.
Wednesday, July 27
Cross-Systems Policy Opportunities to Prevent and End Youth Homelessness
Our final session of Funders Institute focused on how effective policies, rooted in housing and racial justice, contribute to the prevention of youth homelessness. We were joined in-person by Kimberly Waller, Associate Commissioner for the Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB), Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ; Marcella Middleton, Executive Director, A Way Home America; Kevin Solarte, Owner-Worker, Housing Justice Collective; and Casey Trupin, North Forty.
During this session, we learned of a new youth-driven bill, the Preventing Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program (PYHDP) which is currently being crafted in the U.S. Senate. This bill is modeled off the structure of Youth Demonstration Homelessness Program (YHDP) with a focus on utilizing cross-systems engagement to prevent youth and young adult homelessness.
The Connection to Philanthropy
Middleton talked about A Way Home America’s A New Deal to End Youth Homelessness and how a bill like PYHDP can help reform systems. And, Middleton also challenged us to think about the both/and: how philanthropy can both support a bill that’s reformative and push more transformational solutions things like cash transfers that give more agency and power to those experiencing homelessness.
Associate Commissioner Waller expressed how a bill like PYHDP can accelerate the work of government departments like the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), who have a homelessness prevention workgroup across ACF. Associate Commissioner Waller also shared that funders are crucial to the evaluation process and act as accountability partners to make sure this work has an equity analysis. Outside pressure from advocacy partners is crucial for pushing for reform towards transformation.
Solarte added that if we have a commitment to taking direction from young people, we must recognize that often, BIPOC youth-led organizations don’t receive federal funding. Philanthropy can fund these organizations and hold the federal government accountable in breaking down the barriers that prevent these organizations from federal resources.
View the recording of this session.
Reflections from Attendees
“An urgent takeaway for me has been the call to action of directly impacted leaders to philanthropy to move beyond only funding charitable solutions to the housing crisis. It may not be easy to move all philanthropic institutions towards funding that addresses the root causes of houselessness and housing precarity. However, the Funders Institute offered thought-provoking and practical partnerships to support program officers in that journey. The panel facilitated by Bianca Carter that featured the journey Melville Charitable Trust took to shift its strategy has inspired me to ask new questions: what can member institutions at Neighborhood Funders Group learn from Melville’s experiences? How are funders resourcing directly impacted leaders with experiences of being unhoused with tenant organizing and community-driven equitable development solutions?”
- Chimene Okere, Neighborhood Funders Group
“The Funder’s Institute was a great opportunity to meet peers in philanthropy as a newcomer to this sector. The first session I attended, “Creating New Tables” was thoughtfully curated as a fishbowl discussion, centering the panelists in the room to demonstrate the panel’s commitment to disrupting power dynamics. Coming into philanthropy from local government, direct services and my own personal lived experience I felt gratitude and excitement when each speaker shared the projects they’ve embarked on to make philanthropy more accessible to the people closest to the challenge. Listening to peers discuss the personal and professional challenges they’ve endured in becoming “liberated gatekeepers” by returning power to people most impacted fueled a sense of solidarity amongst the attendees and hope for a more culturally responsive philanthropic future. Thank you Funder’s Together and panelists Donald Whitehead, Dr. Lamont Green, Phoebe VanCleefe and Bianca Carter for paving a path for our sector to continue growing with equity at the forefront!”
- Diana Amparo Jimenez, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation
“Attending the Funders Institute is always thought provoking. It was powerful being back in person and having the space just to focus on learning from each other without having to balance learning with everyday demands. The session on engaging people with lived experience has given me a lot to think about around what it means for our work as a United Way. I’ve been reflecting on how we can authentically center people with lived experience, not only across our investments, but also in how we support our Continuum of Care in this work as well. I was also excited to learn about the work of the Housing Narrative Lab and have already started to look at how we can incorporate their tools into our work.”
- Andrea Kurtz, United Way of Forsyth County
Visit our 2022 Funders Institute past event page for resources and recordings from the convening.