How a Chicago Funder Is Looking to Make Gains on Homelessness

photo: Arina P Habich/shutterstock

photo: Arina P Habich/shutterstock

Affordable housing and homelessness are tough areas for private philanthropic funders to make an impact. Compared to other sectors, foundations tend to lack the resources needed to move the needle here, and the issues involved can be complex, especially in major urban areas like Chicago. But we're often struck by grantmakers finding points of intervention where their efforts and resources can make a real difference. In particular, we've reported extensively on the new excitement around creating permanent supportive housing for the chronically homeless. 

The Chicago Community Trust (CCT) has been involved in the local affordable housing scene for a long time, but right now, it’s really tuned into the criminal justice and mental health aspects of homelessness, with an eye on the promise of permanent supportive housing. According to last year's “How Housing Matters in Chicago Conference White Paper,” a combined effort of CCT, the MacArthur Foundation, Polk Bros. Foundation and the Wieboldt Foundation, housing plays a crucial role in both of these issues. Formerly incarcerated people who are homeless are much more likely to return to prison within a few years, while a substantial share of homeless people have a mental illness. Addressing the interplay of these factors requires fresh thinking and collaborations. 

Last month, for example, we reported on an interesting public-private initiative in Los Angeles that uses a "pay for success" model to provide permanent supportive housing to several hundred homeless people who are involved in the criminal justice system and have a mental health and/or substance use disorder.

RelatedCan Pay for Success Reduce Homelessness and Prison Reentry in Los Angeles?

CCT is working in similar terrain. Earlier this year, it set out to identify new approaches that would work for Chicago, issuing a call for proposals to improve "outcomes in health and education, and opportunities for the justice-involved, through permanent affordable housing." It received 68 proposals that pitched possible solutions.

Out of these 68 proposals, nine new grantees were chosen based on their promising approaches to breaking down barriers to stable and affordable housing. The largest of these grants ($85,000) went to the Southwest Organizing Project, which is turning vacant buildings into affordable housing while also running programs in schools. Meanwhile, $75,000 grants were awarded to the Corporation for Supportive Housing for its housing efforts addressing the complex health needs of the homeless and also to the Alliance to End Homelessness in Suburban Cook County for its proposal to bridge homeless and healthcare systems using data and supportive services.

Other recent CCT housing support backed a housing and education partnership with Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services, a housing and education effort to mobilize parents and school employees from local schools, and a housing and criminal justice policy effort to establish transitory and permanent housing for individuals leaving local jails.

This recent round of CCT grants underscores the fast-changing terrain of homelessness funding in Chicago and beyond. Funders are increasingly looking for multi-pronged approaches that work across sectors and issues areas. And momentum continues to build around permanent supportive housing approaches. 

As part of CCT’s current strategic plan, it is awarding competitive grants for general operating support (GO Grants) and also responsive grants through RFPs like this one. Since CCT’s GO Grant program, launched in 2016, is still in its pilot phase, proposals are accepted by invitation only for issues like homelessness, hunger and health. Local grantseekers will have to wait until 2019 for increased GO Grant opportunities without these restrictions. Create a GrantCentral account to receive news about upcoming RFPs and housing-related funding opportunities at CCT.