Using Resources Wisely to End Homelessness
Philanthropic Organizations are essential partners in preventing and ending homelessness. Philanthropy can help USICH and our partners around the country achieve the goals of Opening Doors by taking action in several key areas.
Collaborative leadership is a key area where philanthropy can make a huge difference in communities where they invest. Are the right people at the table from the public and the private sector, including business and faith communities and top government officials? Are philanthropic leaders participating and pushing for change? Does a community need to invest in an intermediary that will help build consensus for a local Opening Doors plan and then shepherd implementation?
Fund Best and Promising Practices and Encourage Research
Invest in what works. That means making sure that grants are structured to encourage the use of promising and best practices and encourage the collection of data to measure results. In areas where we need better information—such as around effective practices for unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness—invest in research that will build our knowledge base.
Increase Affordable Housing Stock for Extremely Low-Income Families and Individuals
Many foundations are playing critical roles in the preservation and creation of affordable housing. That continues to be important, but there has to be closer attention paid to what is defined as “affordable.” We will not end homelessness without an adequate supply of affordable housing that serves the very lowest income households (15% of Area Median Income). Too often foundations support organizations that provide housing for households at 50-60% of Area Median Income. Although this work is important, it can mean that individuals with the lowest incomes are priced out of “affordable” housing. Encourage local housing agencies to review their policies and practices to determine whether they are helping prevent homelessness for people with public housing or housing choice vouchers and whether they are screening in families and individuals experiencing homelessness.
Support Affordable Care Act Implementation
Convene state health care leadership and local providers to ensure that local implementation of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act includes strategies for increasing permanent supportive housing as a tool to improve the health of people with disabilities and other chronic health conditions. This is an opportune area for philanthropy to act now. Supportive housing providers have relied on foundations to pay for the services that make supportive housing work. Many of those services can now be reimbursed under Medicaid. Nearly every single adult experiencing homelessness will become eligible for Medicaid under the Act. Making this work requires deliberate action by state policy makers and, where they are a part of the mix, managed care organizations. There is a capacity issue for many supportive housing providers too. Bring people together so that no time is lost implementing the Affordable Care Act.
Work Actively on Employment Programs
The best defense against homelessness is a job that pays. Bring workforce centers and state and local policymakers responsible for the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program together to plan employment programs that are effective for individuals, youth, and families experiencing homelessness. Good models on how to do this are emerging across the country and can be replicated when local leaders prioritize vulnerable populations.
Focus on Increasing Access to Benefits
For people who require extra support, there are proven methods to improve access to benefit programs like Social Security, Medicaid, TANF, and food stamps through the SOAR program, Benefits Banks, and many other programs. This is another area where convening and small investments can have large local returns.
Support People Transitioning Out of Foster Care, Juvenile Justice, Adult Corrections, and Other Institutions
Enable the implementation of critical homelessness prevention strategies that local communities use to promote stability for youth in the foster care or juvenile justice systems, and for people with mental illness and addiction who cycle through jails, prisons and rehabilitation centers. Support early discharge planning that addresses housing stability, good transitions from institutions into the community, and the right package of community-based wraparound support services, sometimes linked to housing assistance.
Retool Crisis Response
Finally, but of central importance, as we ask communities to transform their homeless services to crisis response systems, foundations can play a key role by investing in prevention, rapid re-housing, and transition-in-place programs. Help communities improve their data and ability to monitor the effectiveness of their systems and press for centralized intake and effective matching of services to the needs of those being served.