A national network of funders supporting strategic, innovative, and effective solutions to homelessness

Homelessness 101


New to this work? Just looking for a refresher? This resource is for funders looking for key resources on homelessness in America. Included are resources to help you understand why people experience homelessness, the scale of the problem, promising solutions, and the essential role of funders. You'll also find great success stories from communities across the country and contact information for experts who have been doing this work for years.



On any given night, over 500,000 people experience homelessness in the United States. This number includes families, veterans, and individuals – both young and old. People experience homelessness for many reasons, covered in the resources below. Because of structural racism, rising housing costs, and stagnant wages, it is becoming more and more difficult for households to cover basic needs such as food, clothing, transportation, AND a safe place to call home.

The good news is that we know what works. Solutions including housing first, rapid re-housing, and permanent supportive housing, can quickly end a person’s homelessness. However, we need the resources and systems in place to implement these solutions effectively and to prevent people from entering the system in the first place. It is important to remember that ending homelessness requires a systems change approach because homelessness isn’t the failure of an individual, but a symptom of systems failure. In addition, because we know that homelessness is closely linked to other systems including healthcare, criminal justice, education, and workforce, it is imperative that we work together with other systems to ensure homelessness is rare, brief, and one-time.

Finally, to end homelessness, we must do this work with an equity lens. People of color and LGBTQ individuals experience homelessness at significantly higher rates than their peers. In order to truly move the needle on ending homelessness, it is crucial to address the structural racism in this country that leads to and perpetuates racial disparities in homelessness, such as housing discrimination, employment discrimination, and disproportionality in the criminal justice and child welfare systems. If we don’t, our work to prevent and end homelessness will never be successful.

Click on any of the section headers below to show/hide content and review additional information and resources.



⯈The Challenge and Landscape

The following resources highlight the top causes of homelessness, including who experiences homelessness and other key statistics. These resources also look at the most recent data to examine service use patterns and capacity to house people. Finally, a new report from SPARC works to understand and respond to racial inequities in homelessness.

Homelessness in America - Overview: The The National Alliance to End Homelessness is one of the leading national organizations committed to preventing and ending homelessness in the United States. On this page they lay out the top causes of homelessness, who experiences homelessness, and key.

Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR): The Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) is released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to the U.S. Congress that provides nationwide estimates of homelessness, including information about the demographic characteristics of people experiencing homelessness, service use patterns, and the capacity to house people experiencing homelessness.

The State of Homelessness in America: The State of Homelessness in America charts progress in ending homelessness in the United States using the most recently available national data. Find data on your state as well as trends over time.

Supporting Partnerships for Anti-Racist Communities (SPARC) – Phase One Findings: People of color are dramatically more likely than White people to experience homelessness. The Center for Social Innovation launched SPARC to understand and respond to racial inequities in homelessness. This report highlights their phase one findings.


Homelessness is a complex issue, but it is a solvable problem. We know what works! The following resources highlight evidence-based solutions – including Rapid Re-housing, Housing First, and Permanent Supportive Housing – that every community should be using in their work to end homelessness.

Housing First and Rapid Rehousing

Two key solutions to understand are Housing First and Rapid Re-Housing. Housing First is a homeless assistance approach that prioritizes providing permanent housing to people experiencing homelessness, thus ending their homelessness and serving as a platform from which they can pursue personal goals and improve their quality of life. Rapid Re-Housing is an intervention designed to help individuals and families quickly exit homelessness, return to housing in the community, and not become homeless again in the near term. To learn more about either of these approaches, you can find helpful toolkits on Housing First and Rapid Re-housing on the Alliance website.

Addressing Racial Inequalities

It is also important to note that in order to end homelessness, we have to address racial inequity in homelessness and housing. People of color are drastically overrepresented when it comes to the population of people experiencing homelessness compared to the overall population. For more resources on how funders can play a key role in this work, visit Funders Together’s Racial Equity Resources page.

Additional Resources and Solutions
The following resources from the National Alliance to End Homelessness highlight key solutions including:
  • A Coordinated Approach
  • Rapid Re-Housing: Housing as the Solution
  • Permanent Supportive Housing: Assistance for the Most Vulnerable
  • Designing a Crisis Response System
  • Increasing Employment and Income

    The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness also highlights evidence-based solutions and key partners including:
  • Housing
  • Integrated Health Care
  • Building Career Pathways
  • Fostering Education Connections
  • Strengthening Crisis Response Systems
  • Reducing Criminal Justice Involvement
  • Building Partnerships Across Jurisdictions

    It is important to note that while housing is one piece of the puzzle, prevention is another. This resource from USICH discusses strategies for prevention.
  • ⯈Funders Role

    We know that we can end homelessness with the right combination of strategies above. We also know that philanthropy has a vital role to play in this work. Our Grantmakers Toolkit on Ending Homelessness is a great place for funders to start.

    As you know, philanthropy can’t do everything and definitely cannot take the place of government. However, there are key roles that philanthropy must play to help move this work forward both through grantmaking and beyond.


  • Fund what works. Philanthropy should focus its Investments in evidence-based solutions and best practices.
  • Support a systems approach. Homelessness is a systemic issue that needs to be addressed at the systems level.
  • Support technical assistance and capacity building. Investing in grantees through capacity building creates stronger programs and services and focus on innovation.
  • Support education and advocacy.
  • Incorporate an equity lens. We cannot truly end homelessness until we address the racial inequities and disparities in housing and other systems.
  • Fund strategies that recognize people with lived experience as the experts. Inclusion of experts in the strategy development process from creation to implementation and evaluation.

    Beyond Grantmaking

  • Advocate for effective policies. Yes, philanthropy CAN and SHOULD engage advocacy and policy work.
  • Collaborate. Funders can increase the power of philanthropy in the community by working together and amplify impact by partners with the public sector.
  • Support education and advocacy.
  • Convene. Philanthropy has a unique ability and opportunity to bring community stakeholders together.
  • Center people with lived experience. The true experts in this work are those with lived experience and no efforts should be done without their voice and inclusion in the decision-making.
  • ⯈Who is Doing This Work?

    Example of Funders Leading the Way

    Angela D’Orazio, Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland
    The Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland works to end homelessness in Cuyahoga County through collaboration, implementation of best practices, and coordination among public systems. Their work focuses on chronically homeless individuals, youth and families. Since they started their chronic homelessness Housing First project in 2006, they have seen a 73% drop in the rate of chronic homelessness. Read more about their work, here.

    Susan Thomas, Melville Charitable Trust
    The Melville Charitable Trust has one goal: ending homelessness. Working in Connecticut and across the United States, the Trust serves as funders, conveners, and advocates for long-term sustainable change. With staff working on every population and related issues like employment and affordable housing, the Trust is a great resource. Learn more about their work by visiting their website, here.

    Andrea Iloulian, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation
    In partnership with the public, philanthropic, nonprofit, and private sector stakeholders at work on this urgent issue, the Hilton Foundation aims to eliminate chronic homelessness in Los Angeles County. They do this in three ways: creating and operating permanent supportive housing, ensuring that the most vulnerable are housed in these units and can stay there as needed, and preventing more people from becoming chronically homeless. To learn more about their work and to view reports on their strategies and findings, visit their webpage.

    Debbie Reznick, Polk Bros Foundation
    The Polk Bros Foundation is dedicated to building and strengthening Chicago's families and communities, especially those most affected by poverty. The Foundation focuses its work at the intersection of Chicago's most pressing issues to address the complex roots and devastating effects of poverty, challenge inequity, and ensure that all Chicagoans have the opportunity to reach their full potential. The Foundation supports housing and homelessness programs that focus on housing and services to prevent or end homelessness, affordable rental housing, homeownership support, and systems improvement and innovation. Learn more about their work, here.

    Our Partners - Experts In The Field:
  • Steve Berg, National Alliance to End Homelessness
  • Ann Oliva, CSH
  • Mike Koprowski, National Low-Income Housing Coalition
  • Regina Cannon, SPARC

  • ⯈Stay Up To Date in Real Time

    As you know, things change fast! Stay up to date with the latest information, including important policy and advocacy items, by following the Funders Together Twitter Account (@funderstogether) and our CEO, Amanda Andere (@AmandaAndere) on Twitter! You can also follow our partners Steve Berg (@sberg0) and Diane Yentel (@dianeyentel), who do an excellent job sharing updates and opportunities.

    Another great opportunity to learn about the latest work in the field is to join us at our annual Funders Forum and Funders Institute. These events are also conveniently held in conjunction with the National Alliance to End Homelessness’ annual conferences where leaders from across the country come together to share and learn.