Council for the Homeless
September 17, 2004
Prepared Remarks by Greg Shaw, former director, Pacific Northwest initiative
It is a great honor to be here on behalf of Bill and Melinda Gates. They send their congratulations and thanks to the many heroes honored here today who are working on behalf of the homeless. One of the reasons they chose to invest time and energy in ending family homelessness in western Washington is that the work you all are doing is often hard and rarely recognized. We’re grateful to each of you for your contributions to the people of Clark County.
Thanks to the Council for the Homeless and especially to Kurt Creager from the Vancouver Housing Authority for your warm introduction. I also want to say thanks to Peggy Sheehan with Clark County. Together we serve on the steering committee of a newly created state fund for homeless families.
I want to talk with you today about three ideas. These three ideas are at the heart of what the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is. These ideas also are at the heart of what brings us all together today:
1. The random geography of a child’s birth should not determine what he or she has access to. Whether that is information, education, health or a place to call home. Equity matters.
2. We can end homelessness, but it takes everyone working together. There is a reason to be optimistic. There is a reason why we all have not given up.
3. The challenge is yours. Your region has the leadership and the resources. The question is, do you have the political will?
I’ll let that sink in. Equity. Solvability. Think globally, act locally.
Who we are: Equity
Bill and Melinda Gates started their foundation on two basic values.
• All lives—no matter where they are lived—have equal value.
• To whom much has been given, much is expected.
These values have led the foundation to focus on a single goal: giving all people, wherever they live, the opportunity to lead healthy, productive lives. We believe that this goal can be achieved—but only if advances in science and learning reach those who need them the most. To that end, we work to increase equity in four areas: global health; education; public libraries; and support for at-risk families in our region. In….
• Global Health: We are working to close the health gap between rich and poor countries by creating new health solutions and ensuring that existing solutions reach those in greatest need.
• Education: We are working to ensure that all students graduate from high school ready for college, work, and citizenship by supporting great high schools.
• Global Libraries: We want to make sure that everyone has access to digital information via free public access computers in public libraries.
• Pacific Northwest: We are helping at-risk families in our region improve their lives by supporting a variety of human services, including service-based affordable housing. Much more on that later.
We have chosen these well-defined issues and limit our work to these areas. We are optimistic that the problems in those areas can be solved. We also recognize that philanthropy plays a relatively small role, compared to governments and markets, in finding solutions. For that reason, we prefer to partner rather than go it alone. More on that in a moment as well...
We are funders and shapers, not the service providers; we believe that the most powerful work comes from passionate, committed individuals and groups. Our chief contribution is a willingness to take risks, focus on the biggest, most neglected problems, and move with urgency. We focus on prevention, preferring to tackle problems before they become intractable. We advocate strongly, and we help others make a difference over the long term. Finally, we measure the impact of our grant making and share the results.
What we do: Sound Families
That all sounds good. But how does it work? Let me describe our work on creating, managing and evaluating Sound Families.
Several years ago Bill Gates Sr. -- in partnership with city, county, state and federal government -- launched a $40 million initiative called Sound Families, which today focuses on family homelessness in King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties.
Our goal is to fund 1,500 new housing units for families in transition out of homelessness, but just as important as the new or refurbished apartments, is the money set aside for social services. Services like domestic abuse counseling, job training and parenting classes for teenage moms. When you consider the trauma these families have been through, we felt it was critical to offer these services, attached to the housing unit, to help stabilize each family.
We’ve just passed the halfway mark on our way to funding 1,500 units, and early research from our evaluators at the University of Washington tells us the program is making a positive impact for families working toward self-sufficiency. Here are some brief highlights, and you can go to the Gates foundation’s web site if you’d like a full copy of the evaluation.
- 55 percent of families increased their income levels while in the Sound Families housing program.
- 66 percent of families obtained permanent housing after leaving the program.
- Upon entry, 64 percent of residents were receiving aid from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
- Upon graduating from the program, the number of families receiving TANF was reduced to 44 percent.
- Full-time employment jumped from nine percent to 23 percent.
The results are positive, but they also show us that we have a lot of work to do to make the program successful. The data also provide valuable demographic information about the families being served by the program, including:
Eight out of 10 families are headed by a single caregiver, most typically a woman with an average age of 32.
42 percent of families being served were homeless for the first time.
Some 66 percent of residents report having a high school diploma; 33 percent report having some college education.
Much of the early success of the program is due to the direct involvement of municipal, county and state government – housing experts from across the public sector play a key role in the program’s development and governance.
One of the most positive developments in this direction was the creation, this past legislative session, of a new homeless families services fund – a $2 million appropriation that will redistribute assistance statewide to organizations serving homeless families. This fund will likely be matched this year by private donors, making it an important new public-private partnership in this sector. Rep. Marc Boldt and Sen. Zarelli from this region were helpful in making that happen.
How we do it: Alliances
Partnerships and alliances like these are all the rage these days. But they are hard, and we have learned a lot from our experience with Sound Families. Within our foundation, we are fond of an African proverb that goes to the heart of why we think partnerships are important: “If you wish to go fast, go alone. If you wish to go far, go together.”
I told the local paper last week that the goals we’ve chosen as a foundation require partnership:
We can’t go alone if we are going to:
• Stop transmission of HIV/AIDS.
• Get every student college ready.
• End homelessness.
• Provide public access computing at every public library.
We can be far more effective and see lasting impact if we work together – and work strategically.
Key reasons to form an alliance?
• Avoid duplication of investments and activities.
• Create economies of scale.
• Reduce/share financial risks.
• Increase effectiveness by sharing of knowledge, relationships, and resources.
• Accelerate momentum and catalyze additional funding by building a common “brand” that gains legitimacy and support.
• Not a “backfill” for public sector cuts.
Qualities of strong public-private partnerships:
• Form Follows Function: Identify core objectives then select suitable partners; choose appropriate alliance structure.
• Clear Project Goals: Spend ample time defining mutual, clear, and achievable goals and milestones.
• Clear Roles: Define in advance who will do what.
• Cultural Differences and Strengths Are Understood and Maximized: Consider the different strengths the private and the public sector bring to the table.
• Senior Leadership Are Committed; Dedicated Staff Are Empowered: Ensure staff aren’t too busy to devote sufficient energy to the alliance.
• Conduct Regular, Rigorous Performance Evaluation: Use external reviewers if possible; compare across similar ventures.
What you can do: Local Partnerships
I want to make a few final comments on what is underway in this region and then take your questions. Part of the original vision for Sound Families was to build a program that other regions of the country might study, and perhaps find that a similar approach could work for their city or county.
So it’s particularly gratifying for me to be here today knowing that a comparable program – Bridges to Housing – is underway focusing on the greater Vancouver/Portland area.
Like your neighbors living in the Puget Sound region, you in this room know that poverty – especially homelessness – does not recognize county, city, or even state lines. And like us, you know that addressing this problem takes the collaboration of hardworking people across all of your jurisdictions.
Make no mistake – the work is not easy. Creating transitional housing with appropriate social services is complex. It takes the dedication of housing authorities, housing developers, service providers, and of course public and private funders. I don’t have to tell you about the challenges we face:
• Possible cuts to the federal government’s Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers
• Long-term funding streams for case management services
• A frustratingly slow economy
• Stigma and racism
Yet there is much to fuel our optimism. And to take on an entrenched problem like homelessness, we must all be optimists. In a world of rising poverty rates, chronic unemployment, and a lack of affordable housing, we also have the Clark College Work Study program, Jim Spear, The Community Foundation for Southwest Washington, Erin Kelleher, and the Alpha Student Service Group of Alki Middle School to help tip the balance.
In conclusion, I’d like to tell you a brief and personal story. In 1979, my brother, mother, and I left Ohio in a 1968 Chevrolet station wagon bound for Texas. Like many young families then and many today, we were fleeing domestic violence. We had $50, a “borrowed” credit card and a desire to find a better life. What we didn’t know then, but what I understand now, is that we were a homeless family. We lived some nights in our car. We slept on the couches of family and friends, and we holed up in cheap motels. I guess the terms of art now are that we car camped, we couch surfed and we motel vouchered. I didn’t think of it then but we were temporarily homeless. Yet my mother was a high school graduate with some college, she came from a good family and she was capable of working. Eventually and with much difficulty, we found our way. I’ll spare you the details, but most of you already know them without me telling you. I wish today that our old Chevrolet could have pulled into Vancouver, WA, in 2004 rather than Dallas, TX. 25 years ago. I am certain here and now we would have found a room full of people – supported by a larger community – ready to offer proven assistance to homeless families.
There are needy families out there now on I-5. They are on their way here. They are at a rest stop, motel or on the street nearby. As a nation, as a state, as a community…are we ready?
Thank you for the opportunity to be with you all today.