Chronic homelessness, which is pervasive in big cities across the U.S., is a famously difficult problem. Yet as we've been reporting, grantmakers are feeling pretty optimistic about homelessness right now. In particular, there's a lot of momentum around creating permanent supportive housing, as private funders work with public agencies and other stakeholders to put a real roof over people's heads while also providing them with the services they need to get their lives on track.
Gains against homelessness underscore how funders can tackle complex problems by collaborating with multiple partners across different sectors and systems. Indeed, it's often grantmakers who are best positioned to get many stakeholders together to achieve collective impact.
For one approach to homelessness that's working well, today’s story takes us to Orlando, Florida. This is a place where chronic homelessness has been cut by nearly 50 percent over the past few years, and philanthropy has played an important role in that progress.
Just three years ago, the city of Orlando had at least 1,700 chronically homeless residents, and the city spent an average of $31,500 per year on social services for each of those people. This money funded hospital admissions, repeat jail bookings and other types of social services. Over 160 organizations were spending a collective $57 million on the problem locally, yet collaboration among all these organizations simply just wasn’t there.
In 2014, the Orlando-based Central Florida Foundation (CFF) launched an effort in partnership with the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness to bring all these groups together to tackle the homelessness problem in a more lasting and effective way. The foundation called it the Homeless Impact Fund. At the time, the foundation explained that the "new fund creates a platform for investment in evidenced-based strategies to change the course of homelessness in Central Florida, including permanent supportive housing and wrap-around services."
Now, three years later, Orlando has achieved big gains against homelessness. It's down to 800 chronically homeless people at a cost of just over $12,000 per individual each year.
What’s the takeaway from all this? Well, according to CFF’s CEO, Mark Brewer, it shows that “Solving homelessness is fundable, doable, and measurable.”
To learn more about this community foundation’s approach and why it’s been working so well in the Orlando area, we got in touch with Brewer to ask a few questions.
When asked what has made the CFF’s Homeless Impact Fund more successful than previous local efforts to reduce homelessness in Orlando, Brewer said that this fund has been more than a Band-Aid solution and represents true systems change. Thus far, CFF has seen a 98 percent success rate keeping people in their homes, as well as cost reductions to the local jail and healthcare systems.
In addition, the Homeless Impact fund has helped to create the infrastructure needed to be successful in housing the most vulnerable individuals for chronic homelessness. One of the major milestones here has been requiring service providers to use the coordinated entry system and the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS). From here, an intensive case management team, along with a housing locator, works with chronically homeless individuals to ensure they have the services they need to remain stably housed. As another layer of assurance, landlords are given a support system that allows them to house individuals they may feel pose a higher risk to their facilities.
Since gauging the impact of homeless funding is a persistent challenge, we asked Brewer how CFF actually measures the results from this fund. We learned that CCF investments are measured against a scorecard created by the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, which includes tracking such goals as ensuring the clients remain housed for one year, that they maintain or increase their income for one year, and that clients have access to primary healthcare and make less use of emergency services. On each of these goals, and others, there's been clear and measurable progress.
In terms of best practices for homelessness-focused nonprofits, Brewer recommends looking at the issue in a different way than it has historically been approached. Brewer said:
One of the main differentiators is called 'low barrier entry,' meaning an individual or family can enter into housing without any barriers, for example, without having to give up an addiction problem or some other issue. It has been proven in other cities, like Houston and Salt Lake City, that putting our community’s most vulnerable citizens in housing first and then providing the support services like healthcare, mental health counseling, etc., is not only more successful, but also provides an invaluable cost savings to the community.
CFF is in the process of renewing grants for its current homelessness partners for 2018, which is the final year for this pilot program. CFF is also working with the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness and jurisdictional partners to scale the solution.
What’s working in Orlando might not necessarily work in every other American city, but it sure seems to be on the right track. Foundations, community and otherwise, that are looking for a funding model to emulate should take a closer look at what’s going on in Orlando based upon these undeniably impressive results. Learn more about the Homeless Impact Fund and other CFF initiatives here.
“The key to success in this pilot program can only be attributed to the collective impact work of community partners including the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness, local jurisdictions and the faith community," Brewer said. “This effort could not have happened without everyone working together to work towards a solution for the most vulnerable citizens in Central Florida.”