Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

900 Heads Are Better Than 1: Reflections on Collaboration Producing Results

February 26, 2013

What happens when you bring together more than 900 of the nation’s leading players in the work of ending family and youth homelessness from the non-profit, government, advocacy and philanthropic sectors? 

The answer?  Remarkable things. 

This is exactly what happened in Seattle last week at a conference organized by the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH).  

Despite the budgetary impacts of the last several years, energy levels were high, and the workshops and hallways were buzzing about innovative new approaches to thorny, challenging problems.  Here are but a few examples of what creative efforts around the country are beginning to produce:

  • Working together, the Departments of Housing & Urban Development, Health & Human Services, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, Funders Together to End Homelessness have completed a successful enhancement of the homeless youth counts in nine cities across the U.S.  The lessons learned from this effort will be used to enhance the 2014 count across the nation, producing the best data ever on the extent of youth homelessness and providing essential information about how best to target resources to ensure effective and efficient responses.
  • Extraordinary partnerships in Idaho are producing real results for families being rapidly re-housed through the use of both Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) and Emergency Solutions Grant resources.  The program also is partnering with Mountain West Bank, using the Community Reinvestment Act as an impetus to creating Individual Development Accounts for families to encourage savings and provide access to mainstream financial services as an alternative to costly payday loan centers.
  • Practices that link housing and employment services are also gaining traction in places such as New Jersey, where formerly homeless families are being helped not only with housing stabilization but connections to workforce and job training opportunities that can increase family incomes.
  • New partnerships between systems and providers working to end both domestic violence and family homelessness are producing outstanding results, simultaneously promoting permanent housing stability and family safety that helps stabilize families that have been traumatized by violence and abuse.  The gap between two systems, historically separated but serving the same families, is rapidly being closed.

These are but a few examples of the new approaches emerging throughout our nation that offer powerful evidence of progress in the work of ending family and youth homelessness.  What each of these models highlights is the critical importance of systems working together to get behind and support the goals and aspirations of each homeless youth or family.  No one system can, on its own, end family and youth homelessness. 

Only when these systems work together, integrating efforts and resources that reach across domains such as housing, child welfare, education & training, employment, and domestic violence can we succeed in achieving our shared goal. 

In a resource constrained environment, and in the face of ongoing, restricted budgets at the state, federal, and local levels, the braiding of the public and private funding that touches vulnerable, at-risk and homeless families will be crucial to continued progress in ending homelessness. 

The message from the NAEH conference last week was clear:  We can do this.  We must do this.  And we are in fact doing this; the early results are more than promising.  Working collectively, we are ending youth and family homelessness in communities across this nation.

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