The experience of homelessness is a reality for many youth and young adults all across the country, but especially for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) youth. If we truly want to make youth homelessness a rare, brief, and one-time experience, leaders from federal, state, and local government, private philanthropy, service providers, advocates, researchers, and youth will need to come together to strategize. Though philanthropic partners represent just one sector, they can play a critical role in these efforts. Specifically, philanthropy is uniquely positioned to strategically invest in good ideas that address gaps in the community, that are not typically supported by government funds, and that provide risk capital for new or untested promising practices.
Preventing and ending youth homelessness requires a systemic approach. Unfortunately, in many communities, it isn’t anybody’s job to coordinate or identify how different actors in multiple systems need to connect to one another and support LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness. Philanthropy can help promote a systems approach by funding a systems owner—a person or entity whose job it is to identify how a community can prevent and end youth homelessness.
Promising, cost-effective ideas that improve outcomes
Philanthropy is still learning about effective models for prevention and what types of housing, education, and employment interventions can lead to improved, sustained outcomes for youth experiencing homelessness. They can play a unique role in supporting good but often “unproven” ideas that, if shown to have positive results, can be sustained and supported with public funding. This is especially true if the intervention is shown to be more cost-effective than current practice.
It’s important to have youth who have lived experience with homelessness at the table to inform all community-based and policy efforts. Engaging and empowering youth, especially youth who are LGBTQ and/or youth of color, to share their stories, to help identify real solutions that make a difference, and to be involved in strategic ways, takes capacity and intentional support, which philanthropy can provide.
Communications and public education
Investing in communications—especially amplifying the voices of non-traditional allies like business or the faith communities—can be critical to raising awareness of, and attention to, the disproportionate number of LGBTQ youth who experience homelessness. Strengthening the capacity of communications and public education is an area philanthropy can uniquely support, given that government funds typically do not support these efforts.
Philanthropic partners can support engagement in the public policy process, ensuring that the voices and experiences of youth and homeless advocates inform the legislation and regulations that will most directly impact their lives.
Research, data-collection, and evaluation
We’re still learning about promising models in this area, especially for disproportionately affected subpopulations such as LGBTQ youth. Many communities are also trying to identify how best to “count” youth experiencing homelessness. Philanthropy can play a unique role to support local communities’ data collection, research, and evaluation efforts so that the field can get smarter about what interventions works and for whom.
Although philanthropy can play a critical role in strategic investments, no one sector can solve this problem. It is important to note that, in addition to funding, philanthropy can also help facilitate:
Convening and bringing other partners to the table
Philanthropy can use their convening power to bring diverse stakeholders together to raise awareness and to engage key actors, who may have distinct but complementary roles, in order to ensure there is a more coordinated approach on their efforts.
Aligning multiple funders to pursue joint outcomes and priorities
It is important that both public and private funders, who are investing in efforts to end youth homelessness, are aligned with their individual strategies informed by the same research and evaluation outcomes, using their voices and resources in a concerted and coordinated fashion.
Using institutional leadership to elevate an issue
Beyond the power of their dollars, philanthropic actors can use their stature, reputation, and voice to leverage new players from different sectors to take notice, to engage, and to invest in existing efforts. This role can take multiple forms resulting in enhanced credibility, concern, and awareness about the experiences LGBTQ youth have with homelessness and housing instability.
Sharing and disseminating knowledge and lessons learned
Communities everywhere are trying to learn about what works and for whom on these efforts. Philanthropy can play a critical role in sharing lessons learned – both what’s worked and what hasn’t.
The Raikes Foundation partners with innovative organizations and creative thinkers who are making lasting, positive change in the lives of young people. Founded in 2002 by Jeff and Tricia Raikes, the Seattle-based foundation believes in the power of catalytic philanthropy and applies this approach to fight youth homelessness, build learning mindsets and skills in the classroom, and promote high quality, out-of-school time programs for youth.
Katie Hong, Director, Youth Homelessness, Raikes Foundation
Kris Hermanns, Executive Director, Pride Foundation
Philanthropy can play a unique role in strategically investing in efforts to prevent and end youth homelessness. As much as possible, philanthropic dollars should be used to fund gaps and areas in which public funders are less likely to invest. This includes:
- Systems’ capacity;
- Promising, cost-effective, ideas;
- Youth voices and engagement;
- Communications and public education;
- Policy advocacy and;
- Research, data-collection, and evaluation.
In addition to bringing money to the table, philanthropy can also:
- Convene and bring diverse stakeholders together;
- Align multiple funders (both public and private) to pursue joint outcomes and priorities;
- Use their institutional leadership to raise awareness; and
- Share and disseminate knowledge and lessons learned.