February 5, 2018

How can foundations help accelerate progress towards a future without homelessness?

Dr Lígia Teixeira

Every once in a while we do well by taking stock of where we are and to map out the future. The workshop we held in London with the Association for Charitable Foundations was one of those moments.

Participants from foundations in England and Wales came together to talk about their role, and explore ways to achieve even better results. We did this because at the centre we believe that foundations are in a unique position to help build the infrastructure required to invest in what works.

The energy in the room was fantastic and for those who weren’t able to be there, here’s a snapshot of the issues discussed during the day:


We’re at a crunch point in the history of homelessness

Foundations have a long history of helping to tackle homelessness. They’ve invested in frontline services. They’ve nurtured campaigning efforts and innovation. And they’ve unlocked new insights by encouraging us to look at the issue through the prism of severe and multiple disadvantage. Together they do a lot of good.

But despite these and other efforts too many people remain without a home across the country. Participants reflected that a new approach to homelessness is needed - one which recognises the changed reality of life in the 21st century, and marshalls the considerable power of philanthropy in new ways.

With finite resources available, participants were keen to discuss how their work could have even greater impact, and what strategies to use to tackle the root causes of homelessness, rather than ‘tinkering at the edges’.

Sharing our learnings and funding outcomes

We learn best when we learn in the open and when we look out. Participants talked openly about their experiences, sharing tips, and hearing about similar work happening in the US.

Everyone was keen to explore how they might move to a greater focus on impact in relationships with their grantees. They worried that certain ways of working can breed a thumbs-up/thumbs-down culture, at the expense of learning.

We discussed how this would change if foundations develop a stronger understanding of different levels of evidence, what it takes to build useful evidence and how this would help them to invest in opportunities that build and sustain stronger outcomes over time.

A number of ideas were discussed that participants felt would be helpful:

  • Staged funding to allow for learning, failure, and adjustment over time;
  • Scoping reviews prior to making investments to understand the pre-existing evidence base for a given intervention;
  • Data, monitoring and evidence standards aligned with one another (and with national standards where appropriate) to enable a more coherent and accessible landscape;
  • Evidence portal to understand the evidence for given interventions;
  • Pooled funding for evaluation, including testing and scaling up of projects that seem to be working - allowing the organisations to speed up learning by avoiding what doesn’t work;
  • Build in-house research capacity, and potentially share specialist roles across a group of foundations.

The power of philanthropy  

Foundations have the power to shine a light on what’s happening, to ensure the homelessness issue is not ignored. They can use grant making, commissioning and social investment powers to change the landscape in which people affected by homelessness live. They have the power to ensure their voices are listened to.

But participants talked about how they can do more. They also have the power to mobilise - as philanthropic organisations in continental Europe did in response to the crisis in the Mediterranean and the movement of refugees. And they have the power to convene – to bring people together and challenge long held views. They have the leadership and the money to create alternatives.  

We’re here to help

The changes foundations think need to happen are big, exciting, and challenging. At the centre we will do what we can to help them do the right thing to get better results for people affected by homelessness.  First, by building a series of Evidence Gap Maps and tools that help decision-makers compare strategies by their proven effectiveness, and later by working across the sector to build the evidence of what works.

What’s next?

The conversations that happened on the 24th of January are just the beginning. What matters most is what participants took back to their foundations, and how they continue the spirit of collaboration that was so energising in the room. That’s going to have a huge impact on the work we all do over the coming year – and beyond – as we transform the homelessness sector together.

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