It Starts With a Day

After spending a day with funders from across the country at our annual Funders Together to End Homelessness Institute last week, I started to ask myself is one day enough to address the complicated issues related to preventing and homelessness?

On June 29th, media outlets in San Francisco coordinated coverage on the causes and solutions of homelessness in the city. Over 70 outlets signed up to provide an in depth look at the city’s past, present, and future of homelessness and to put a face to those who are affected by it. The initiative spread into other cities, like Seattle and Los Angeles, spearheading their own conversations. The coverage and social media chatter that it generated was impressive and provided an essential springboard to the next phase: focusing on solutions that work.

A day of coverage to bring awareness to the issue is vital and appreciated, but where do we go from here? This initial conversation is just the beginning to what we know is needed to solve homelessness, not just in San Francisco, but across the nation. Here is what we know: a home can end homelessness. By treating those experiencing homelessness with compassion and dignity and providing them with access to safe and affordable housing, in some cases, combined with supportive services, we can not only end homelessness, but have a better chance at preventing it in the future.

At Funders Together to End Homelessness, our funders are focused on preventing and ending homelessness through innovative and effective solutions that work. Philanthropy has come together in powerful ways across the nation, like in communities such as San Diego and Los Angeles, to pool resources and influence to support proven solutions. And when funders collaborate, things happen. Incredible things. According to the Foundation Center, in 2012, over 5,000 grants were awarded from funders totaling over $305 million dollars towards homelessness initiatives .

This money fills government funding gaps, provides flexible dollars, and gives hope to organizations doing the ground work to serve and ensure individuals and families experiencing homelessness are finding the support they need.

One successful example of this took place in San Diego. A collaborative of funders, called Funders Together San Diego, had $240,000 of funding available to invest in converting transitional housing into rapid re-housing or permanent supportive housing. By working with the San Diego Housing Commission, the collaborative was able to leverage that $240,000 into $10 million of public funding to support the operational expense to create permanent supportive and convert existing transitional housing. The money put forth was amplified to help as many as 1,500 San Diegans who are experiencing homelessness.

But, as powerful as it is, philanthropy can’t do it alone. While $305 million dollars is a remarkable amount, it is just a drop in the bucket compared to government funding. To ensure initiatives are successful, there needs to be a strong partnership between the public and private sector that shares knowledge, leverages funds, and spreads influence to peers. Solutions work because of support from the community, businesses, philanthropy, and government alike. This is true on both a local and national level. These partnerships throughout the community, when all stakeholders are at the table from the beginning, hold the power to evaluate the issue and tackle it head on with the understanding that everyone has “skin in the game” and that when the plan succeeds, everyone wins. It is time we all unite and understand that homelessness is a symptom of a larger problem, and ending it is all our responsibility.

We, as a collective community, need to amplify our voices to influence true change. We need to put our dollars and support towards solutions that we know will end homelessness. We need to continue these conversations started on June 29th, and turn them into action.