What: Confronting a growing crisis
Homelessness in the United States is a crisis. It has been accumulating over decades due to systemic failures and structural racism. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, homelessness has been on the decline for the past decade by fourteen percent. Still, over 550,000 people experience homelessness or housing instability in our country.
To address and end this crisis, we must focus on root causes that we know will solve it: equitable access to safe and affordable homes. We know the evidence-based solutions — like Housing First, permanent supportive housing, and rapid re-housing — and know that engaging in this work requires a commitment to centring racial equity and those with lived expertise for true progress.
We also know that philanthropy plays a critical role in ensuring that solutions and practices are successful. Philanthropy can convene community stakeholders and be the catalyst of relationships between those stakeholders. Funders can take risks by investing in new and innovative ideas. They have the flexibility to fund what local, state, and federal governments cannot.
While private funders cannot do it alone, they have a unique opportunity to work together and in tandem with the public sector to create large-scale, sustainable systems change in communities.
How: Catalyzing public-private partnerships to end homelessness
At Funders Together to End Homelessness, a membership organization of foundations committed to ending homelessness, we believe in the power of public-private partnerships. We know that aligning funders together creates more than the sum of our parts. Large and small funders each bring strengths to the table to solve problems and reach a common goal.
Collaboration is a priority for our members and their communities. Effective public-private partnerships between philanthropy, government, and community partners provide the backbone to implement and sustain proven solutions and best practices. In these partnerships, stakeholders work together to address community needs, whether through leveraging financial resources, expanding capacity, or providing thought partnership. Over the years, we’ve seen members engage in many effective public-private partnerships that have transformed communities.
In the U.S., homelessness-focused funding from philanthropy totals over $305 million, which pales in comparison to government dollars, more than $6 billion. But through strategic collaboration, private dollars push and leverage public funding to support evidence-based solutions and create change. For example, in San Diego, a group of funders was able to leverage $240,000 into $10 million of public funding to support the operational expense to create permanent supportive housing by converting existing transitional housing. The funders worked with the San Diego Housing Commission and brought them to the table as a partner for discussions during the funder meetings. The money the group invested and leveraged was used to help as many as 1,500 residents experiencing homelessness.
In Houston, Funders Together members are part of The Way Home, a collaborative made up of private-public partnerships that deploys community-wide strategies to end and prevent homelessness. Through intentional thought partnership between the public and private sectors, more than 14,500 individuals have been housed and homelessness has decreased more than 50% through this partnership since 2012.
Through public-private partnerships, philanthropy can also champion innovation and invest in opportunities that present as “too risky” for government partners. Funders are better equipped to absorb the risk of pilot programs before government investment takes it to sustainable scale. We’ve seen this in Denver through the Pay for Success Housing to Health Initiative pilot, which launched in 2016. Funded by private philanthropy, this 5-year pilot aims to connect formerly incarcerated people who are experiencing homelessness with supportive services and stable housing.
Beyond supporting pilots and leveraging funds, philanthropy can invest in the research and evaluation of programs and solutions to educate public partners and inform where to focus future efforts. Philanthropy funded a recent report on by C4 Innovations on Coordinated Entry Systems Racial Equity Analysis of Assessment Data to examine how the system contributes to and perpetuates racial inequities. These findings cry out for more equitable assessments and the need for stakeholders and policymakers to commit to apply a racial equity lens to all and any homelessness service, program, or legislation.
Public-private partnerships aren’t built overnight. Trust needs to be cultivated through mindful conversation and coordinated action. As community investors, it is imperative that the private and public sectors also invest in relationship building and work to align priorities. With a shared road-map and goal, we can put an end to the homelessness crisis.
Amanda Misiko Andere, Chief Executive Officer, Funders Together to End Homelessness
Lauren Bennett, Director, Communications Policy, Funders Together to End Homelessness
Martha A. Toll, Executive Director, Butler Family Fund and Board Member, Funders Together to End Homelessness