After years of progress, the number of people experiencing homelessness increased in 2017 to more than 550,000 people, according to the 2017 Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR). While the increase from 2016 was small (less than one percent), the bottom line is any increase means more lives are being affected by the lack of affordable housing across the country.

What’s more, is that we know homelessness is a symptom of a much larger problem. Other sectors intersect with the homelessness system, including health, education, employment, and criminal justice. Also taking into account that homelessness affects people of color and LGBTQ youth at disproportional rates, it’s clear that inequity is part of the crisis.

However, it is a preventable crisis.

The solution to ending homelessness is a very simple one: access to safe and affordable housing. While the rise in numbers is, of course, concerning, there is hope in the good work being done and progress made by communities across the nation who are responding to homelessness through effective and efficient services and Housing First models such as rapid re-housing and permanent support housing.

The giving of dollars towards programs and services that band-aid homelessness negates the effectiveness of efforts to ultimately end and prevent it. While important and necessary, solely focusing on funding services such as emergency shelters or soup kitchens, won’t address homelessness at its core and only temporarily addresses needs. Instead, it is important for funders and donors to explore how to be strategic with their investments in order to move the needle on eliminating homelessness.

How to Make an Impact

Here are three ways donors can be part of the solution through impactful giving:

1) Align priorities and funds with other donors in your community. One effective way funders and donors are making progress in communities is by creating and working as funder collaboratives. By working as one entity, together they look at the data and analyze community needs to identify goals and how funds should best be dispersed as a collective group for the most impact. Joining a funder collaborative can help you understand not only the full scope of the issues at hand, but the most strategic way to invest in efforts to end homelessness to effect the most change. Pool your money and align priorities with other local foundations and donors to leverage public resources and make your dollars go further.

2) Work with your local United Way. Many United Ways across the country are focused on addressing homelessness and/or housing issues in the community. Reach out to your local United Way to see how you can partner together and contribute to its efforts, not only through funding, but by providing connections to others in the community, as well as using your influence and voice to lift up collective messaging around policy issues that affect housing and homelessness issues.

3) Explore opportunities to provide flexible funding. As a donor, your dollars can be used in a variety of flexible ways that help people stay housed, therefore preventing them from experiencing homelessness. Consider providing funds towards important items like rental assistance and security deposits so individuals and families can get into and stay in much needed housing or fund transportation assistance that enables people to continue working and therefore remain in safe and affordable homes. You can also be the catalyst in facilitating landlord relationships to ensure positive partnerships with organizations working to house those in need.

Funders Together to End Homelessness welcomes you to reach out and connect with our network of more than 230 foundations, United Ways, and individual philanthropists all working to prevent and end homelessness. Collaborating to effect true change is the heart of what Funders Together and our members do.

Homelessness in the United States is a crisis, but ending it is within our grasp. Together, we can be part of the solution by being willing and reliable partners in our communities. The small rise in homelessness shouldn’t discourage us from investing in what we know works, but rather fuel our drive for innovation and strategic partnerships.