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

What Happens When We Really Start to End Homelessness


Reflections on our 2014 Funders Institute

This year, along with dozens of other funders and colleagues from around the nation, I attended the second annual Funders Institute sponsored by Funders Together, in concert with the conference of the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH).  At both the Institute and the NAEH conference, I was struck by renewed levels of energy and optimism as we make significant progress in the work of ending homelessness. 

According to the best available national data as reported by NAEH, from 2012 to 2013, overall homelessness across the US decreased by 3.7 percent.  Furthermore, decreases are being documented across a number of groups for which homelessness is measured.  Family homelessness is down 7%, chronic homelessness among individuals is down 7.3%, and veteran homelessness is down by the same amount. 

Right here in my own state, HUD reports that family homelessness – the focus of the Gates Foundation’s work – decreased by almost 23% in 2013, the 4th largest decrease for any state in the nation, and by more than 29% since 2007, before the Great Recession.  Those are extraordinary numbers.

Admittedly, we still have a long way to go; 31 states saw drops in homelessness in the last year, while 20 states saw increases in overall homelessness.  As the experts dive into this data, what is increasingly clear is that we now know the best ways to reduce and ultimately end the crisis of homelessness for individuals, youth, families and veterans

The evidence points towards the best responses:  Permanent supportive housing and rapid re-housing within a “housing first” framework, service-enriched transitional housing for homeless youth, formal programmatic linkages to mainstream systems to help build skills, job-readiness, social capital and individual and family resilience, just to name a few.  The rich conversation during both the Funders Institute and the NAEH conference provided example after example from across the nation of communities that are implementing these and other promising and evidence-based practices that are ending homelessness for tens of thousands of Americans. 

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It is gratifying to hear from colleagues from around the United States that philanthropy is playing a central role in promoting and implementing the responses that we know can end homelessness.  Whether hearing from Michael McConnell about new pooled funding resources in San Diego, or from Leslie Strnisha on how small foundations can have disproportional impact on local strategic partnerships, or from Martha Toll about philanthropy’s advocacy power as “The Little Engine that Could,” it was exciting to know that our peers in philanthropy across the nation are on the front lines of the evolutionary changes that are ending homelessness for individuals, families, youth, and veterans. 

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These partnerships are not going unnoticed by our allies in government.  Cecilia Munoz, Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, together with Laura Zeilinger of the US Interagency Council on Homelessness, both spoke to us of the extraordinary impact Funders Together is having on the national conversation on homelessness, and the renewed confidence that ending homelessness is within our collective grasp.

And, in a new (and remarkable) demonstration of the impact we are having, it was my honor to be asked by Nan Roman, CEO of NAEH to join her in my capacity as the FTEH board chair in a private welcome to the NAEH conference’s final keynote speaker: Michelle Obama, First Lady of the United States.  When the First Lady knows what FTEH is, and in her articulate and elegant way thanks FTEH for the work we are doing, it’s hard to deny that our efforts are making an impact on the field.

Rather than wringing our hands about a problem that for years spiraled out of control, the theme that pervaded both the Institute and the NAEH conference is the knowledge that we can – and we are – making significant progress in addressing a problem that many have believed for decades was an unsolvable, intractable, permanent part of the American landscape.

Even as the Institute attendees acknowledged enormous remaining obstacles that include decreasing supplies of affordable housing and not enough jobs that pay a family wage, the gains of the past several years have spawned an optimism that was hard to miss.  The skeptics are losing ground as we demonstrate that we can achieve that day when homelessness, if it does occur, will be something rare, brief in duration, and a one-time-only experience.   

David_Wertheimer_2012a.jpgDavid Wertheimer is the Deputy Director of the Pacific Northwest Initiative at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, Washington, as well as the Board Chair of Funders Together to End Homelessness. Find him at @DavidWSeattle.       


Want to see more photos from our 2014 Funders Institute?  Click here for a recap of the event.

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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