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

The Music of Ending Homelessness

The music in my home when I was growing up was an unusual blend of 70’s Korean pop ballads, Simon and Garfunkel, and The Who. Times may have changed, but music is still a large part of what makes a home, and that’s why Richard Carter’s story has meant so much to me.

The music in my home when I was growing up was an unusual blend of 70’s Korean pop ballads, Simon and Garfunkel, and The Who. Today when I come home from work I’m more likely to hear Gangnam Style, the Harlem Shake, or Macklemore coming from my kids’ iPods. Times may have changed, but music is still a large part of what makes a home, and that’s why Richard Carter’s story has meant so much to me.

Most of our work at the Foundation is aimed at bringing about large scale changes that address major inequities around the world.  The foundation takes on huge challenges—eradicating polio overseas, ensuring that all children in the United States have a quality education, or in my case, reducing family homelessness in the Puget Sound region.  The only way the foundation can have lasting and meaningful impact is by using our funds to trigger changes in the larger governmental systems that exist to solve these problems at scale.  We necessarily focus our efforts on developing strong, catalytic partnerships with governments and direct service providers, and so all too frequently, our work can feel somewhat removed from the lives of the people we’re trying to serve.

Last October, we had the opportunity to interview four families recovering from homelessness in the Puget Sound region that had received services from the Washington Families Fund, a public-private partnership administered by Building Changes, a Foundation grantee.

The interviews – including one with Richard Carter, the young man who appears in this video – were conducted to prepare a four-minute film that kicked off a two-day family homelessness meeting at the Foundation that brought together federal, state and local leaders, housing and homelessness advocates, as well as the country’s leading homelessness researchers, to discuss the most effective ways to deliver housing and services for homeless families.

As the Foundation’s film crew was wrapping its interview with Richard, Dave Gross, the sound man for the shoot, asked him about a small piano in the corner of Richard’s bedroom and asked him whether he played.  The crew saw Richard smile and after some persuasion, as the crew scrambled to relight and reset their equipment, Richard performed the original composition that became the orchestrated score that graces the video.  The crew was immediately struck by the poignancy of Richard’s performance and knew as they were rolling that they had captured a special moment that would anchor the heart of their production.

As the crew left Richard’s family’s apartment, Richard commented that noise restrictions in the complex unfortunately limited his ability to play his piano on a regular basis.  Gross immediately realized that what Richard needed was a digital piano with headphones so that he could play without disturbing anyone.

As a member of the Board of Governors for the Pacific NW Chapter of The Recording Academy, the organization that puts on the GRAMMY Awards, Gross was able to contact MusiCares, the charitable arm of Recording Academy. MusiCares was so moved and inspired by Richard’s story that the organization agreed to donate a brand new digital piano that Richard would be able to play and record whenever he wanted. Within a few days, Gross, video producer David Wulzen, and the cinematographer of the video, Christopher Bell, were able to present Richard with his new keyboard.

The Foundation’s family homelessness strategy is an effort to improve the lives of tens of thousands of homeless families in King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties, and my work as a program officer here is therefore focused on partnering with governments to think about how use public and private resources more efficiently and effectively to provide housing and services for these families.

I think of my work as prose—I’m spending most of my days working through dense programs and funding policies and thinking about how these words and numbers might be better aligned to serve families I will never meet.

However, it’s the poetry of Richard’s music– and the similar talents and passions of so many other homeless children and their mothers– that remind me why our work of systems change really matters, and in the end, how our success will ultimately be measured.

kollin_min_gates.jpgKollin Min is a Senior Program Officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation where he leads the advocacy work for the Foundation’s family homelessness initiative. 

This blog originally appeared on the Gates Foundation’s blog, “Impatient Optimists”. To view the original post & corresponding video, visit The Music of Ending Homelessness

We joined Funders Together because we believe in the power of philanthropy to play a major role in ending homelessness, and we know we have much to learn from funders across the country.

-Christine Marge, Director of Housing and Financial Stability at United Way of Greater Los Angeles

I am thankful for the local partnerships here in the Pacific Northwest that we’ve been able to create and nurture thanks to the work of Funders Together. Having so many of the right players at the table makes our conversations – and all of our efforts – all the richer and more effective.

-David Wertheimer, Deputy Director at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Very often a lack of jobs and money is not the cause of poverty, but the symptom. The cause may lie deeper in our failure to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities, in a lack of education and training, in a lack of medical care and housing, in a lack of decent communities in which to live and bring up their children.

-President Lyndon B. Johnson, 1964 State of the Union Address

Funders Together has given me a platform to engage the other funders in my community. Our local funding community has improved greatly to support housing first models and align of resources towards ending homelessness.

-Leslie Strnisha, Vice President at Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland

Our family foundation convenes local funders and key community stakeholders around strategies to end homelessness in Houston. Funders Together members have been invaluable mentors to us in this effort, traveling to our community to share their expertise and examples of best practices from around the nation.

-Nancy Frees Fountain, Managing Director at The Frees Foundation

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