You can’t solve one problem without solving all the problems.
This is a maxim in social services, and rightly so. A mom struggling with poverty and homelessness benefits greatly from employment. But she needs to secure transportation to her job, childcare for her preschooler, and stable housing if she expects to keep working.
This same principle can be applied to those providing the solutions: You can’t address systemic issues, like family homelessness, without engaging all the stakeholders.
This holistic approach has always been at the core of Family Promise’s work. Historically, we have brought together a range of community stakeholders: social service providers, employers, congregations, schools, governmental bodies, community members, and civic organizations to empower families to overcome homelessness. Each addresses an element of the problem. A house of worship provides shelter space. An agency connects a mom to Head Start. Volunteers provide meals, tutor children, or help a parent craft a resume.
As Family Promise has grown and expanded programming far beyond shelter, this collective approach has extended to how Family Promise partners with corporations and donors on a national scale.
This year, the CARES Act and government grants have played a significant role in helping communities address homelessness prevention. The pandemic has hit low-income families particularly hard, with disproportionate job loss (or wage cuts for those who are still employed), combined with the challenges of remote schooling and childcare programs closing. The CDC-mandated moratorium on evictions has helped in these efforts, but this funding is critical to alleviate the pressures on tenants who cannot pay the rent and landlords who depend on it to remain solvent.
While we think this support is essential, we also know that government funding cannot solve all the problems; it is only a small down payment to avoid catastrophic impacts and spikes of homelessness among poor families.
That’s where Family Promise’s approach has been critical. In the past few years, we have focused on providing resources and best practices in prevention (keeping people in housing) and diversion (finding options for families who are homeless that allow them to bypass shelter).
But our expertise and guidance are not enough. In order to actuate these programs, we have worked with corporate and individual donor partners that have funded the launch and staffing of these programs. We have been able to direct millions of dollars on the local level to equip Affiliates with these cost-effective, innovative, compassionate, and highly successful solutions.
The cost of rehousing a family can range from $11,000 to $16,000. But at Family Promise, the cost to prevent their homelessness – and the related trauma – is approximately $1,000. Diverting them from shelter is even more cost effective, at $650 per family.
This does not account for the expense of providing shelter, or for the long-term costs of allowing children to experience homelessness, which are borne out in the differences in graduation rates, health and wellness outcomes, and future earning capacity for children who have lost their housing.
Despite the premise that the U.S. is a meritocracy and anyone can go from rags to riches, the reality is quite different. A famous study from Harvard economist Raj Chetty showed that only a fraction of those children born into the lowest quintile of wealth ever make it to the highest in their lifetime. The overwhelming majority never exceed the second-lowest tier. And even if they make it to college, children born in poverty graduate at less than half the rate of their middle-class peers.
Here is an example of this inequity and the structural barriers that can perpetuate it from one of our California Affiliates: A young man who would be first in his family to attend college was blocked from taking the SAT, a critical prerequisite to achieving his dream, because he had no proof of his current address. Why? His family was homeless.
Solving homelessness is not purely a human or societal imperative, it is sound fiscal policy. When donors make investments in nonprofits like Family Promise, they are investing in future economic growth and productivity and reduced government costs.
Importantly, these investments are more than just a one-time provision of funds. They are part of a comprehensive strategy to ensure sustainability, growth, and lasting impact. Family Promise looks to create capacity and permanence within the communities we serve. Any private sector investment is designed to be matched locally though additional funding. Metrics and accountability are key: We need to know what works, why it works, how we make it better, and how one community’s success might inform others. We are not looking to solve a single problem—we are looking to engage all in replicable solutions.
These programs have many corollary benefits. They have raised the profile of our local Affiliates, garnering more support and greater influence. They marry our dynamic core model with industry best practices to produce outcomes that amaze and impress veterans in our sector.
Though we did not plan for a pandemic, when it hit this year, we were prepared. Our Affiliates adapted their shelter operations and developed or enhanced programs to address prevention and diversion using the models we built and perfected. When the CARES Act funding started flowing, Family Promise was ready. Across the country, our capability in prevention services saw HUD entrusting Affiliates with funding that in some cases more than doubled their budgets.
Similarly, funders came to us knowing they could invest in immediate impact. Our strategic partnerships, innovative programming, and proven track record assured them that Family Promise would continue to put families on the path to independence despite the unprecedented challenges presented by the pandemic, which included a declining job market, a failing economy, and a widespread housing crisis.
This is because Family Promise was not focused on solving one problem—we were solving all of them with sustainable solutions.
The partnerships funders build with Family Promise are critical investments. These investments create an infrastructure to lead families from the constraints of chronic, cyclical poverty and homelessness to the independence and limitless potential of stability and security. In short, they are investments in the future, and the return on these investments benefits us all.
We thank our donors and partners for making these investments and for the trust placed in us to ensure their lasting impact. There is no price that can be put on the change we are able to effect with the dedicated support of the partners and funders who share our mission to give children in need the future every child deserves. We know that it takes all of us – all sectors working together – to end family homelessness, and together, we will succeed.