On Friday, a colleague (my boss, actually) brought an item in the Chronicles of Philanthropy to my attention. It was called, “As Social Needs Mount, How Can Philanthropy Best Alleviate Homelessness?”
Before even reading the piece, I discussed it with my boss and let the question marinate in my mind. And while the obvious answer was clear, I also wanted to make sure I wasn’t overlooking the more meta angle of the issue; maybe it’s the never-ending madness of the budget process taking place right here in the District, but I was thinking less about throwing money at a problem and more about creating the change necessary to solve – to end – persistent social ills. When we’re looking at the world through this wide-angle lens, what is the role of philanthropy?
There are some solid examples in the homeless assistance community:
In Denver, CO, Denver’s Road Home has long worked with the Office of the Mayor and the Mile High United Way to lead a community-wide effort to implement the city’s Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness. The partnership has also opened new funding and resource avenues and, to date, over 30 foundations have not only contributed but engaged in Denver’s effort to end homelessness.
After decades of failed attempts, Los Angeles has launched a promising new chapter in the community’s effort to end homelessness. A new plan to end chronic and veteran homelessness in the city of angels, Home for Good, is spearheaded by United Way LA and the LA Chamber of Commerce – an unlikely if effective duo. The pair serves as an organizing entity, a governing body, and the driving impetus to end homelessness in what is, ostensibly, the homeless capital of the country.
Foundations, with their do-gooder beliefs and the ability to put their money where their mouths are, are in a powerful place to enact some real social change.
Foundations can identify and support innovation; they can advance great new ways to solve old, vexing problems. They can not only fund but foster an idea or technology that promises to improve society – taking it from conceptualization to development to implementation. With their resources and clout, they can bring leaders from all sectors of the public to make a better, more livable community, emphasizing the goals of sustainable change and real progress as opposed to band-aids and temporary fixes.
In the homeless assistance community, they can support what’s working. It’s no surprise that there isn’t as much money to go around as there once was, and in this economically tight environment, foundations can lead by example: using their limited resources to support strategies and policies that address root causes of homelessness, change the systems that aid and contribute to homelessness, end homelessness.
There is no arguing that homelessness is a complex issue, one fraught with moral, economic, and social discord and as such, will require a comprehensive, multi-pronged solution. In this way, it is the perfect issue with which foundations can get involved as leaders bringing the necessary stakeholders to the table and leading the discussion on targeted investment, best practices, and systems-change solutions.