Florida Philanthropy Comes Together to End Homelessness

RethinkHomelessnessPhilanthropic organizations of various types from across Florida came together in Orlando in June for the kick-off of Funders Together Florida, a new member affinity group of Florida Philanthropic Network in partnership with Funders Together to End Homelessness. The group will be a vehicle to bring philanthropy together for collective learning, sharing and action on preventing and ending homelessness in Florida.

Convening participants heard a case study of an intensive effort underway in Central Florida to battle homelessness. The Central Florida Commission on Homelessness serves as the backbone organization for this collective community effort, which has brought together nonprofits, faith-based institutions, philanthropic organizations, private sector businesses, and other charitable and community organizations to impact homelessness in the Orange, Osceola and Seminole county area. The effort was catalyzed by a study revealing that Central Florida had one of the worst homelessness problems in the country.

In 2014, the Commission released a groundbreaking report calculating the true expense for each chronically homeless individual in the community to be roughly $31,000 a year, whereas providing the chronically homeless with permanent housing and case managers to supervise them would run about $10,000 per year.

The initiative also launched an advocacy campaign to encourage the community to think differently about the homeless population. One video created by the campaign – “Cardboard Stories” – has spread the message of Rethink Homelessness around the world. It has attracted more than 6 million YouTube views to date.

The Central Florida Foundation is playing a key role in the partnership by managing the Homeless Impact Fund. This new fund creates a platform for investment in evidenced-based strategies being supported by the initiative to change the course of homelessness in Central Florida.

Andrae Bailey has served as the Commission’s Executive Director for the past two years. He told participants at the convening that he spent his first hear on the job going around the country to learn from communities that have been successful in tackling homelessness. He offered four factors that need to be in place if any community is going to be successful in moving the needle on homelessness:

  1. The effort must be led by the top leaders in the community, who will publicly hold themselves accountable for the effort’s success or failure.
  2. The effort needs to include advocacy to change people’s minds about people who are homeless.
  3. Resources must be quantified and focused on what works.
  4. You need a collaborative system built for the long-term.

There was a lot of discussion during the convening about the need to use data, not emotion, to drive decisions about ending homelessness. Data can point to what works, or doesn’t work, with different populations of homeless individuals (chronic, family, youth, episodic etc.). Data can also bring together unusual allies. “Data ties people and progress together,” noted Mark Brewer, President and CEO of the Central Florida Foundation.

There was also a great deal of talk about the fact that for most types of homelessness, transitional housing doesn’t work. What tends to work better are models centered on the Housing First approach, which focuses on providing people experiencing homelessness with housing as quickly as possible – and then providingthe  services and support they need to maintain their housing.

Anne Miskey, Executive Director of Funders Together to End Homelessness, encouraged convening participants to use a systems approach, and not a programmatic approach, to address homelessness. “Standalone programs, no matter how good, simply won’t work to end homelessness,” Miskey said.

Despite philanthropy’s relatively small amount of financial resources compared to public sector support, Miskey noted that philanthropy can and must play a key role in communities if we are to succeed in ending homelessness. Philanthropy can identify and advocate for best practices and work to act as a connector and relationship builder in the community between service providers, government, the business and faith communities and funders themselves.

The initial members of Funders Together Florida identified several actions they’d like to see the group take to help support their work moving forward:

  • Provide more educational convenings like this one that bring national experts and expertise to the state and help Florida funders learn from each other.
  • Share stories and case studies like the one we heard from Central Florida about efforts in the state to address homelessness.
  • Share data, information and resources on what’s working, and not working, to end homelessness.
  • Raise public awareness and outrage about homelessness in our state.
  • Address policy issues at the state level that can help move the needle on ending homelessness, and provide resources to help members address policy issues at the local and regional levels.

FPN is forming a Funders Together Florida Steering Committee to drive the group’s initial agenda. We look forward to our continued partnership with Funders Together to End Homelessness to serve as a catalyzer, connector and convener to help maximize the effectiveness of philanthropy’s role in ending homelessness in our state.

– David Biemesderfer, President & CEO, Florida Philanthropic Network.

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