A Challenge to Funders in Homelessness

We spend billions fighting poverty every year in the US, but less than 1% of that money goes to evidence-based programs.

If we ever wonder why some of the problems we face feel cyclical or intractable, we should start with the fact that so little of our funding goes to programs that we know work.

Those with us who have access to capital have a significant role to play in what gets funded in society.  And if we’re honest, a lot of our public and private dollars goes to hunches and assumptions rather than evidence.

The Seattle LEO cohort can be a part of change here in Seattle, contributing to a culture of evidence in the fight against homelessness.

To fellow funders in the homelessness space, I have two asks:

Please accompany these studies and get behind the bright spots.  Evidence means very little if it sits on a piece of paper, but it can be transformative if capital gets behind the programs that work.

And I encourage you to consider funding more research.  Research should be a culture, not a one-and-done moment.  It needs to be continuous.

There’s a remarkable return on investment in investing in research.  We can help examine the effectiveness of tens of millions of dollars in programs fighting homelessness with a relatively small grant.

Research is institutionalized listening.  

In research, we ask, “does this actually work?”  And then, we have to put our assumptions and hunches aside and let the evidence speak.  And by evidence, we mean real people’s lives tell the story.

It also requires humility for those of us who are in philanthropy.  We don’t get to be the ones that the answer. We don’t get to be the ones who say, look at the exciting new program we just built. It’s long, quiet work – in the background. It makes the service providers the real stars of social change.

But I think it is the kind of investment in philanthropy that actually can make a real difference.