Forging Strong Public-Private Partnerships to End Homelessness

May 1, 2017

In any business or organization, there are individuals who make up departments each with specialized expertise and skills. While everyone has their assigned role, it takes each person in each department working together to take a project from an idea to implementation and ultimately success.

We are all in the “business” of preventing and ending homelessness: private funders, nonprofits, service providers, community leaders, and local, state, and federal government. For us, success is ending homelessness so that everyone has access to a safe and affordable place to call home. While passionate and knowledgeable in each of our respective areas, none of us can solve homelessness alone. And particularly, resources from philanthropy alone—which pale in comparison to government dollars—cannot fund the pathway to our goals. Working together, we reduce overlap to use resources more effectively, identify and close gaps, and provide a platform for shared knowledge to find what works best for individuals and families experiencing homelessness.

At Funders Together to End Homelessness , we’ve seen the success of public-private partnerships and know cross-sector partnerships are essential to communities’ efforts to prevent and end homelessness. While it may be difficult at first, these relationships, just like a business, create a whole that is much greater than the sum of its parts. Within the field of ending homelessness, we’ve seen shining examples of what can happen when all sectors work together to set goals and form a plan. These communities have been able to move the needle forward on homelessness by working together, meaning less people experiencing homelessness each night.

Across the nation, funders have intentionally taken on new roles when working with other sectors to implement effective and innovative efforts towards ending homelessness. In these instances, philanthropy has expanded beyond its conventional role of simply providing funding to act as conveners and relationship builders, to collaborate to pool funding to facilitate systems change, to develop awareness around the issue, to enhance technology critical to measuring outcomes, and to build capacity to ensure success. In areas of the country where this way of working together collaboratively has been established, we are seeing notable results. For example,

  • In Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, A Place 4 Me is a cross-sector partnership initiative guided by 30 public and private partners to prevent and end homelessness among youth and young adults. Led by the YWCA Greater Cleveland as the backbone organization, the partnership is governed by a steering committee consisting of a nonprofit, the county department of Health and Human Services, and private foundations. In 2016, A Place 4 Me participated in the A Way Home America 100-Day Challenge with a goal of housing 100 youth in 100 days. Through this public-private partnership, they exceeded their goal and 103 young people were housed by the end of the challenge.
  • In 2014, a public-private partnership called Your Way Home Montgomery County (YWH) was launched to address the issue of homelessness in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. YWH’s organizational structure acts as a single entity for county government, philanthropy, services providers and other stakeholders to come together and work as one to address homelessness in the county. In 2016, impacts of this partnership are evident in the results. For example, of 351 families that were provided diversion services, 73% were diverted from homelessness shelters. In addition, only 4% of those families who were prioritized for, and moved into, permanent supportive housing have fallen back into homelessness.
  • In Houston, Funders Together members are part of The Way Home , a collaborative made up of public-private partnerships utilizing community-wide strategies to end and prevent homelessness. The 2016 Point-In-Time Count showed The Way Home continuing a five-year trend in reducing homelessness with an overall decrease of 57% since 2011.

What makes public-private partnerships like these effective? Last fall, several Funders Together members met with The White House Office of Social Innovation and HHS’s Administration for Children and Families to discuss promising partnerships and strategies for success. There, participants identified key characteristics behind successful partnerships:

  • Establishing and understanding goals : Working together to identify a shared goal is essential to success. As a group, it is important to ensure that all members understand and agree to the goals that have been defined.
  • Understanding each other’s unique role: Everyone brings something vital to the table and being aware of each member’s expertise and experience creates a safe environment that allows for innovation and risk-tasking.
  • Trust and relationship-building: Like understanding everyone’s roles, there is a level of trust that needs to be present for partnerships to be effective. Building relationships with your peers and trusting their expertise is crucial as you work towards the common goal.

Within each community, there are countless people and organizations working to solve homelessness and related issues. By coming to the table with open minds and willing hands, we can help each other reach our individual goals and create a system that works for those we are aiming to serve.

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