Philanthropy has taken a huge step forward, but there is still much to learn and work to be done if we are to truly solve homelessness. That’s why we’re excited to hold our first-ever Funders Institute this summer with our partners at the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
This piece originally appeared on the National Alliance to End Homelessness’s blog to introduce the Funders Institute, a Funders Together event that will take place in conjunction with the Alliance’s 2013 National Conference on Ending Homelessness.
Last year I was with a group of funders from all across the U.S. doing a ‘tour’ of Skid Row in Los Angeles. The group was being led by two residents, Jim and Ed – men who were formerly homeless but were now living in permanent supportive housing in the area. They spoke of their journeys, from life on the mean streets to lives of safety, dignity and permanence in their own homes.
As we walked down the street, lined with people asleep on the sidewalk, pushing shopping carts or sitting on curbs, one of the members of our troop asked our escorts about food. “Do people living on the streets get enough to eat?” she wanted to know. “What’s being done about feeding people?”
There was laughter from both men and they stopped and turned to us. “Enough to eat?” asked Jim. “We get so much food we don’t know what to do with it. Every community group, ladies group and faith group brings food to Skid Row. We don’t need more food – what people need here are homes.”
As Jim spoke I looked at all the people handing out food on the street, at the missions and organizations offering ‘hot meals’, at the people lined up to get their ‘three hots and a cot’, and then I looked across the street at Skid Row Housing – well-built apartment buildings that provided permanent supportive housing for formerly homeless individuals. I looked down the street to the Downtown Women’s Center, which provides permanent, dignified housing for formerly homeless women. I knew that all of these buildings had been built partly through the support of private funders and it dawned on me then that I was seeing both sides of philanthropy at work in this small area of Los Angeles.
On the one hand, there is a focus on immediate needs – on doing the compassionate thing and providing meals. On the other is the focus on permanent solutions, on helping people out of homelessness to stability and homes of their own. I would never suggest that providing meals or giving emergency aid isn’t absolutely vital. We need emergency solutions – we need to make sure people are fed and clothed and have a place to stay. Unfortunately, many funders have focused on this exclusively and don’t know that there is something beyond this. Instead they continue to put their resources solely towards emergency aid or towards things that may be compassionate, but aren’t always effective in terms of long-term solutions.
This is one of the reasons that Funders Together to End Homelessness came into existence. A number of years ago a handful of funders from across the country understood the opportunity and the responsibility they had to make the best use of their money possible to create solutions, not only temporary assistance. They knew that they had to hold themselves as accountable as their grantees for the outcomes of programs they funded. They also understood that homelessness was solvable and that private philanthropy had a catalytic role to play in making it happen. If we were to end homelessness, philanthropy knew it had to do things differently.
This small group of six funders was the beginning of Funders Together to End Homelessness. It is now a national network of over 150 members focused on solutions to homelessness. From small family foundations like the Frees Foundation to larger ones such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, members of Funders Together not only focus on good grantmaking, but they continue to learn the importance of forging community bonds, partnering with government, and actively supporting and carrying out advocacy to shift policies toward those that help lift up the most vulnerable, rather than keep them enmeshed in the ‘safety net’.
Philanthropy has taken a huge step forward, as many of the members of FT have shown – but there is still much to learn, and work to be done if we are to truly solve homelessness. That’s why we’re excited to hold our first-ever Funders Institute this summer with our partners at the Alliance. Working together in the planning, production, and execution of this exciting event, we look to engage philanthropy to support service providers in their national and local communities, and to actively work with government to solve the issue of homelessness. If you are a funder, please join us; if you’re a provider, advocate, or someone who simply cares passionately about this issue, we’ll see you at the 2013 National Conference on Ending Homelessness, where we can all share our stories and move forward together.
Learn more by visiting our Funders Institute Information Page.