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    Targeting Homelessness in San Diego through Philanthropy

    Photo courtesy of San Diego Grantmakers
    “Funders Together to End Homelessness San Diego’s first grant was for $200,000 to 25 Cities San Diego, the regional arm of a federal initiative to provide technical assistance to organizations and agencies working on preventing and ending homelessness.”

    Homelessness is more than an issue for churches, cops, and politicians. Philanthropists who care about their communities have a crucial role to play, and not just by giving to organizations that directly feed and house those without homes.

    No one knows this better than the dedicated philanthropists behind Funders Together to End Homelessness San Diego, a collaborative group devoted to working behind the scenes to change systems in San Diego and Imperial counties. In just the past two years, Funders Together has invested more than $1.3 million in programs to fight homelessness.

    “Our purpose is to promote an effective and efficient system of housing services,” says Karen Brailean, a local businesswoman and vice chair of Funders Together to End Homelessness San Diego. “We try to embrace new ideas and get our community ready to move to the next level and implement best practices.”

    Because Government Alone Can’t Fix the Problem

    Why not leave all this to the government? “They can’t cover it all, and they typically have restrictions on how their funds are used,” said Nancy Sasaki, chair of Funders Together and the executive director of Alliance Healthcare Foundation. “[Philanthropy has] freedom to spend money where it’s needed, and we can serve as a catalyst for change for the entire system by listening to the community, directing the community, and working together with government, businesses and providers.”

    Megan Thomas, senior director of Collaborative Philanthropy at San Diego Grantmakers, which facilitates the Funders Together collaboration, echoed this point about philanthropy’s flexibility in developing community solutions. “Philanthropy can seed new ideas and react to unanticipated and emerging needs quickly, which can uncover innovative solutions and lay the groundwork for long-term sustainable government programs to end homelessness.”

    Last year, for instance, Funders Together allocated $200,000 to Coordinated Assessment and Housing Placement, a system based on national best practices that allows homeless people to quickly be assessed and linked to appropriate services. The investment by Funders Together allowed homeless advocates in downtown and North County to move forward with their use of the system and successfully secure an additional $700,000 grant to expand it.

    “As Chair of the Regional Continuum of Care Council, the partnership and support from Funders Together has been instrumental in our regional efforts to build the coordinated system needed to truly end homelessness.  The flexible nature of FTEH grants has allowed the RCCC to supplement the funding we receive from the federal government to have the greatest impact in the community and on our most vulnerable neighbors,” said San Diego City Councilmember Todd Gloria.

    Permanent Housing is Key

    Funders Together focuses on permanent housing. This reflects the movement by many homeless advocates toward supporting permanent housing instead of focusing on temporary or transitional housing. “We’re getting better at moving homeless people to homes,” Brailean says.

    Indeed, the number of local veteran homeless people fell by 16 percent last year. “That’s not by accident,” Brailean says. “That happened by implementing the best practices and operational changes that Funders Together has initiated and encouraged.”

    A Family & Youth Focus Too

    This year, the group has $445,000 to allocate to permanent supportive housing efforts, and is also emphasizing family and youth homelessness.

    Funders Together will hold a seminar in the fall of 2016 where stakeholders will learn from one anothers’ successes and challenges to build a stronger continuum of care throughout San Diego County and help homeless families and young people find homes. And the group will also work to better understand how many young people are homeless.

    “They’re more likely to couch surf: spend a couple nights with one friend, spend another couple nights with another friend,” says Funders Together chair Sasaki. “That makes it hard to understand the need in our community.”

    To oversee all of this work, serve as its liaison in the community, and help attract additional aligned funding, the group is currently hiring a director.

    Get Involved

    For more information about San Diego Grantmakers’ fall seminar and Funders Together meetings, contact Contact Megan Thomas, senior director of Collaborative Philanthropy at San Diego Grantmakers.

    Those who give to Funders Together understand that they’re making a difference in a way that’s just as important as a blanket or a meal — and maybe even more so. “It’s great to know that you’re making permanent changes in people’s lives, helping them have their own home,” Brailean says. “It’s truly meaningful change.”

    Funders Together to End Homelessness – San Diego welcomes all funders interested in combining and aligning their resources with this group and the broader regional effort to end homelessness.

    Potential funding partners are welcome to attend the fall seminar as well as at Funders Together meetings held throughout the year to learn the latest about homelessness, current efforts being implemented, and how homelessness relates to other issues that donors may care about like mental health, food security, and education. Contact Megan Thomas, senior director of Collaborative Philanthropy at San Diego Grantmakers, at (858) 875-3332 or megan@sdgrantmakers.org for more information.

      When people feel strongly about giving back to their community, they typically strive to do everything they can with what they have to give. They want to know things like the impact of their philanthropy, who else supports the causes they care about, and how they can combine forces. Providing answers to questions like these is what San Diego Grantmakers is all about.