On February 28, we gathered in Oakland, California, in conjunction with the National Conference on Ending Homelessness for our 2023 Funders Forum. More than 60 participants from across the country joined to discuss how philanthropy can support the movement through coalition-building, what it means to engage in principled struggle, and how we can authentically and holistically center those with lived experience to achieve housing justice.
Time and Space to Imagine: Funders Forum Keynote and Fireside Chat
Laura Raymond, Director of ACT-LA, delivered our opening keynote address with her remarks focused on her involvement in the Fund for an Inclusive California (F4ICA), a philanthropic initiative composed of funders and grassroots organizers mobilizing for racial and economic justice. F4ICA has achieved some notable wins, including co-creating the LA Housing Movement Lab, a structure to explore possibilities of de-commodification of housing, such as social-housing models and community land trusts. They also mobilized to pass Measure ULA, a new real estate tax in LA city that will raise $9 million for social housing annually.
Using F4ICA as a case study for building a “coalition culture,” Laura emphasized that their success was built on time: to build trusted relationships, to experiment, and to imagine the qualities of the future they want to build. Imagination, she argued, is critical to movement-building but is so rarely permitted in the confines of predetermined deliverables, tight deadlines, and rigorous grant requirements that too often characterize philanthropy.
We transitioned to a Fireside Chat in which Laura was joined by Jennifer Martinez of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative in conversation with Andrea Evans, a San Francisco-based consultant for our California Homelessness & Housing Policy Funders Network, where we dove into the tactics behind advocacy efforts like Measure ULA. Jennifer reflected on the challenge that housing policy is so regionally specific, which is part of what drives the affordable housing crisis but necessitates region-specific advocacy. She also drew attention to the role of narrative, the combination of public perceptions of homelessness and affordable housing that often epitomize the racism and bigotry of the so-called ideological left just as much as the right. Panelists cautioned us with a warning about the both-and nature of coalitions: that, on the one hand, they are more successful when staffed, but on the other, investing in coalitions should not (but often does) siphon funding from grassroots organizers.
Andrea left us with a reminder of the space and time necessary to imagine better futures, which she characterized as “magical thinking:” refusing to accept the status quo, giving ourselves permission to dream liberated worlds.
“The Funders Forum provided an enriching experience to learn about the work of other colleagues, reflect, model vulnerability, and challenge us to use our collective imagination to prevent and end homelessness. When discussing narrative change with Laura Raymond, Jennifer Martinez, and Andrea Evans, a question was posed: "how do you animate the base and move the middle?" I have been reflecting on how CFTEH's collective voice can animate the base and shift power from philanthropy back to the work of those with lived experience, being proactive and attuned to the needs of grantee partners and being accountable to the community.” - Kathy Niedorowski, Program Coordinator, Chicago Funders Together to End Homelessness
Coalition-Building: Finding Alignment to Advance Housing Justice
In this conversation, we heard from both national and local coalition leaders about how we can work to intentionally be more aligned collectively with housing and racial justice. The speakers highlighted how, by working in coalition, philanthropy must rethink how it shows up in the movement and truly uplift those with lived experience by co-creating with them the spaces and opportunities to lead the work of housing justice.
Emily Krisciunas, Director at Chicago Funders Together to End Homelessness (CFTEH), shared how by working in tandem with other funders, they were able to become more aligned in prioritizing systems change and shifting power to those who were most impacted. The network had three main goals: advocating for more equitable and just housing policies, creating more aligned and leveraged funding, and shifting power towards those most impacted. Members of CFTEH collected grantmaking data and discovered that more than half of their collective grants were going to the same 10 organizations. Because of the narrow focus, there were vast disparities in who was receiving funds. Smaller, newer, or BIPOC-led organizations were left out of critical funding.
As a result, CFTEH shifted to community-centered planning that focused on more community input, greater accessibility to grantee partners, and increased engagement in the advocacy and community organizing space. One additional outcome was the establishment of a Housing Justice Fund, a pooled fund from more than 30 Chicago funders to support BIPOC-led organizations and lived-expertise-led initiatives. The Fund also seeks to support a wider variety of efforts including grassroots organizing, advocacy, and narrative change.
Shifting to a national perspective, Ann Olivia, CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness and member of the National Coalition for Housing Justice (NCHJ), emphasized how it was necessary to build coalitions to be more effective advocates. After returning from her time in public service, Ann observed that there was a lack of coordination among national groups working on homelessness and housing. The National Coalition of Housing Justice was formed in response to the criminalization of homelessness throughout the country by pushing for collective action and collaboration that centered housing and racial justice. NCHJ was formed as a space where members could align on proactive solutions and policy efforts, work to dismantle harmful policies, and create shared space for housing justice values.
One area the speakers explored was the tension between the immediate actions that we take today and working towards a more liberated future. Alexander Rey Perez, an advocate with lived experience and a member of NCHJ, brought the issue of home by sharing how it is important to be imaginative and bold in how we think about housing justice: “How can we envision something outside of anything we have ever experienced and enter the unknown? What we are looking to create is not something that we have seen, but it has to come from something higher.”
Reflecting upon that tension and the importance of living into shared values, Alexander and Ann highlighted how NCHJ came together in-person to take direct action to protest and protect those affected by the McPherson Square encampment raids in Washington, D.C., by the federal government. The McPherson Square raids went against the values stated in the federal government’s own federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness. NCHJ advocated with both the federal and local partners to convene stakeholders, including residents of McPherson Square, to come to solutions rooted in housing justice. When plans for the raid moved forward, Ann highlighted how this was a pivotal moment in which the coalition showed up as a collective, going beyond advocating through letters and phone calls, but putting their own bodies on the line by going to McPherson Square to act as accountability watchers and support those whose homes were being raided. This is part of living into the values of housing justice for all.
Philanthropy's financial support and trust in the coalition provided a space for national partners to come together to do necessary work. Amanda Andere, moderator of the panel, added how this collective action was only possible because of the past three years of relationship-building and trust that allowed NCHJ to show up in the way that it did: boldly and unapologetically.
View the recording of the session on coalition building.
Advancing Housing Justice Requires Principled Struggle
Building off the previous discussion of the McPherson Square encampment raids, the Funders Together staff felt like it was very important to pivot the originally scheduled programming of ALL IN: The Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness to instead be a discussion of how to engage in principled struggle, especially with those we thought were in alignment with on our vision for a housing-justice future. In this discussion, Amanda Andere, Stephanie Chan, and Lauren Bennett took the stage to discuss how Funders Together and NCHJ led efforts to stop the forced removal of residents from McPherson Square in Washington, D.C., by the National Park Service on February 15, two months sooner than expected. As part of the National Coalition for Housing Justice (NCHJ), we were called on by local advocates to act because it was on federal property, most individuals within the encampment were not connected to housing in any way despite the resources available in the District, and raids directly conflict with our housing-justice principles. We had immense concerns about how this would harm our unhoused neighbors and the negative impacts it will have on broader efforts for housing justice as other communities are looking to address unsheltered homelessness.
NCHJ made repeated offers to the Biden-Harris administration and Bowser administration to convene stakeholders, including the residents of McPherson Square, to develop a plan to rehouse unsheltered individuals as quickly as possible using best practices and proven solutions and to address the city’s ongoing challenges in addressing homelessness. Rather than accept NCHJ’s offer, the Biden-Harris administration and the Bowser administration moved forward with the raid.
For this reason, it was important for Funders Together and our partners to hold the current administration accountable and engage in principled struggle moving forward to stop any future raids. As Lauren highlighted, “Sometimes being in principled struggle with those you are closest to can be the hardest part. You expect to have hard conversations with people you don’t agree with, but you don’t always expect to have those hard conversations with those you thought were your allies.”
During the discussion, panelists highlighted that in principled struggle it is important to be direct and honest about differences, while holding compassion and seeking deeper understanding. By engaging in principled struggle, it can make partnerships stronger because it allows constructive conversations, accountability, and living into the values of our work.
How Funder Networks Can Embody Housing-Justice Values
Concurrent to the roundtable discussions following lunch, Michael Durham, Director of Networks at Funders Together, gathered the point-persons of regional funder networks and those interested in forming new ones. Using principles of circle process, we created a short-term space of intentional listening and speaking from the heart, beginning with participants naming where their personal values show up in our work for housing justice. We also named that our articulation of housing justice is a critique of the collective of institutions, people, etc., that constitute the movement to end homelessness. Housing Justice claims that this collective has failed to attend to the intersecting systems that destabilize people’s housing situations in the first place. That critique, however, does not inherently mean that crisis response is irrelevant, but that prevention lacks emphasis. Funder Networks are collectives themselves, affording them the opportunity to investigate where they are succeeding and failing as a microcosm of the movement.
The session concluded with an exercise in identifying the characteristics of an exemplary regional funder network. We also cast a vision for working together in the coming months, including building a network-related document repository and composing resources that will facilitate onboarding new funder networks in the future.
“The Funders Together convenings are a great opportunity to reinforce our homeless prevention work. And I appreciate this unique opportunity to learn from my peers, and broaden my network with like-minded philanthropists across the country. I attended the session for Regional Funder Networks where I was able to gain insight into how other regions were able to organize and leverage their collective strengths. I left the Forum inspired by the speakers and Funders Together team, challenging us to deepen our understanding of housing justice work, and motivated to continue to strengthen my relationships with partners so we could move together in achieving our North Star.” - Xiomara Cisneros, Housing Manager at Chan Zuckerberg Initiative
Fishbowl and Roundtable Discussions: Deep Dives into Narrative Change, Health x Homelessness, Coalition-Building, and Program Design & Evaluation
In the afternoon, we conducted a fishbowl conversation among roundtable leaders to help prime attendees for the roundtable conversations. Participants had the opportunity to “tap in” to the fishbowl to provide their insights and remarks. Through the exercise, a few main topics became a central focus:
- The importance of going beyond “engaging” people with lived experience and instead co-creating the conditions for them to design and lead this work.
- Paying people with lived experience to be at the table and provide their expertise is not just important, but a necessary condition for true collaboration. Likewise, philanthropy should be considering other benefits and services it provides to support the wellbeing of leaders with lived experience (i.e., flexible funding for self-care).
- We are in a prime opportunity to use narrative change as a tool for progress around housing justice. Storytelling has power and cultural context that is often missed when we don’t center our messaging and language on those who are most impacted.
After the fishbowl exercise, participants moved into roundtable conversations based on the topics they were most interested in further discussing, including:
Narrative Change: This roundtable discussed the history of narrative change, drawing from examples throughout history to share how narrative change has been used to change public opinion and policy. Participants then discussed new platforms and techniques and how they can be applied to achieving housing justice.
Coalition-Building: During this roundtable, participants engaged in candid dialogue about what it looked like not only to support coalition-building among partners, but also within philanthropy itself, because how philanthropy can operate in silos only adds barriers to the work. Participants spent time discussing what that looks like, both internally at individual institutions and across foundations.
Evaluation: The dialogue focused on how people with lived experience can shape the research design and evaluation process. By centering those with lived experience, researchers can achieve more equitable outcomes that meet the needs of those most affected. A core element of the discussion was how philanthropy can support these efforts through their grantmaking.
Healthcare: Roundtable participants explored the intersection of homelessness and healthcare. In particular, they focused on how the homelessness response system and health systems can work in tandem and the challenges that currently exist in the field, such as data-sharing. With this context, participants discussed how to support those with health challenges who are at risk of becoming homeless, policy and systems change, and how to make healthcare more accessible.
“I found the Funders Forum to be inspiring. It is always rejuvenating to be in partnership with both other funders as well as committed advocates such as Laura Raymond and Alexander Rey Perez that can keep me grounded in the urgency of this work. I was particularly excited to hear about some of the innovative strategies being explored such as narrative change around social housing in California and the ongoing importance of resourcing organizers and direct community engagement. - James Crowder, Senior Program Associate at the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Visit our 2023 Funders Forum past event page for resources and recordings from the convening.