In March, the Chronicle of Philanthropy published an opinion piece that suggesting foundations could address homelessness if they viewed people experiencing homelessness as investment opportunities. The narrative used and approach the author suggested lacked awareness and understanding so Funders Together CEO, Amanda Andere, responded to lift up how philanthropy can contribute to a solution by shifting its power and resources.
This Letter to the Editor was originally published in the Chronicle of Philanthropy on March 25, 2022.
To the Editor:
As the head of an organization made up of more than 270 philanthropic members focused on housing justice, I feel compelled to respond to Daniel Heimpel’s recent op-ed, “Foundations Should Unleash Their Biggest Asset to Solve the Homelessness Crisis: Endowment Investments” (March 9, 2022). The narrative Heimpel uses is harmful and plays into the sensitivity people feel about homelessness in their communities. It lacks awareness and understanding of the issue and uses othering language that perpetuates dangerous perceptions some people have about their neighbors experiencing homelessness.
We appreciate Heimpel’s acknowledgment of the pressing need for a solution to homelessness and recognition that philanthropy can play an innovative part. But his notion that philanthropy could have more impact if grant makers “viewed every unhoused person as an investment opportunity” is offensive. This type of thinking reinforces a white supremacy culture built and maintained by inequitable and dehumanizing systems.
We agree that foundations can have a transformative impact by divesting from companies that contribute to injustices and instead investing in efforts to solve homelessness. Creative approaches are essential to build housing that people feel safe and secure in, and philanthropy can play an important role in making that happen. In that regard, Heimpel’s idea isn’t inherently wrong. It’s his approach that presents problems. Suggesting foundation endowments can profit from homelessness is, as he acknowledges himself, “callous.”
At Funders Together to End Homelessness, we believe that housing is a fundamental human right and that every individual deserves safe, accessible, secure, affordable, and dignified living conditions. We also believe that those who are unhoused should have agency and power over where they live. We are on a journey with our members to understand what that means for philanthropy and how we can shift power and resources to achieve a more just and liberated society where homelessness and housing insecurity no longer exist.
We unapologetically believe that dismantling current systems, philanthropy included, is necessary to achieve those goals. This, in part, means that grant makers should not focus on expanding investments by capitalizing on an inhumane system it played a part in creating. Rather, private philanthropy should challenge itself to return wealth to those who were exploited to build that wealth — specifically Black, Indigenous, and other people of color. This return of stolen power and resources puts agency back into the hands of community leaders who understand what solutions work best for their neighbors experiencing homelessness and who have done this work without adequate funding for decades.
It’s also critical to consider who we listen to and learn from when suggesting solutions to homelessness. People who have never been unhoused should not offer up what they believe is the right course of action before talking to those with lived expertise in this area and developing an understanding of the barriers people face to remain in stable housing. They should not suggest solutions or approaches that fail to grasp the underlying societal failures, including structural racism, that lead to homelessness.
Instead of focusing on how philanthropy can make more money for itself while also addressing homelessness, foundations should invest their time, voice, and resources into transforming those very systems that have allowed their endowments to keep growing. At the end of the day, we need to invest in people, not profit from them.
Chief Executive Officer
Funders Together to End Homelessness