America’s homeless response system has been called “the emergency room of society,” conjuring images of a space where the focus is on urgent intervention—finding shelter or managing encampments—rather than trying to prevent crises from happening in the first place. But what if we think instead about homelessness as a point on a continuum that encompasses many states: housed and unhoused, permanent and temporary, stable and unstable, affordable and unaffordable? What if we see being unhoused as a condition that is shaped by many forces and systems outside an individual’s control, and therefore amenable to system reforms that might actually prevent emergency situations, while also providing clear routes out for those who do end up in crisis?

That’s the perspective taken by the funder collaboration Funders for Housing and Opportunity (FHO), and it drives FHO’s growing emphasis on very affordable housing (meaning housing that’s affordable to those with very low incomes) as a solution to homelessness. That sounds obvious, but too often homelessness is addressed in a silo, separate and apart from efforts to bring housing justice to a system that, for too many people, creates barriers to stable, affordable, healthy homes.

Several of FHO’s members, including the authors of this article, have extensive experience in addressing the unhoused end of the housing continuum—from funding direct services for people who have lost housing, to supporting efforts to change eviction policies and practices, to investing in the development of new supportive housing. We all come to the challenge of homelessness from different starting points, based on our organizations’ interests in related issues such as renters’ rights, immigrant and refugee rights, re-entry after incarceration, the rights of people with disabilities, domestic violence, and hate crimes. However, given that housing is the platform for most successes in life, we find value in breaking down the silos among funders and across sectors as FHO begins to address America’s housing crisis. We hope the following lessons help other funders and social change leaders find ways to collaborate across sectors and silos on housing solutions.

  1. Put housing first.
  2. Think through a systems lens and work toward systems change.
  3. Elevate and support the contributions of people who have experienced homelessness.
  4. Prioritize young people.

To help funders better support these and other efforts to prevent and end youth homelessness, Funders Together to End Homelessness (a close partner of FHO) created Funders Network for Youth Success, which provides “learning and action” resources on how to support specific elements of this work, as well as opportunities for funders to network, connect, and engage in advocacy.

Read the full article about housing and homelessness by Seyron Foo, Raji Hunjan & Amy Kleine at Stanford Social Innovation Review.