Welcome to our 2017 Annual Report. We’re excited to share what we are learning and take you on a tour of the work of our grantee partner.
In any other year, that might suffice as an appropriate opening. But 2017 was not any other year, and coming years promise more of the same chaos and cuts to government programs that help our neighbors get by. As we write this letter, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is floating a proposal to raise the rent of the poorest Americans that receive housing aid and to impose work requirements that experience has already shown to be counterproductive. The biggest group affected by these cruel cuts would be single mothers with small children.
While we have seen many administrations come and go and have watched our country shift back and forth between red and blue, what we have seen and heard this past year is more than a political shift. It’s a disturbing assault on the foundation of our country by those in power. We are deeply concerned that the social contract between our government and its citizens is being weakened to the point of breaking and causing widespread suffering among those with the least resources.
The past year has reinforced how crucial it is for us to stay focused on our goals and remain nimble in our strategy. 2017 taught us that to push our work forward, we need new reflexes, a stronger voice, and a wary, adaptable stance. We are looking at our work in new ways in these uneasy times.
We are reminded of an illuminating exercise that Nadim Matta, president of the Rapid Results Institute (a grantee partner), led our board through at a recent meeting. He gave us three tennis balls and told us that each of us was to touch each ball in the same sequence as quickly as possible. Each time we upped our speed, Nadim told us about other groups who figured out a way to do it faster.
After numerous enthusiastic and increasingly manic attempts, we recognized that it was a problem that could be reduced to a few essentials, and figured out how to complete the exercise in record time.
The experience was eye-opening, and as you’ll see in this report on our 2017 work, it also provides some good parallels to how we try to use our funding to make a substantial impact. Here are three of the principles that guide us and that we hope will help us navigate the terrain over the next few years.
Commit to an ambitious goal.
Having eight people touch three tennis balls in sequence in less than a second seems impossible. Until you do it.
The Melville family launched the trust over 25 years ago with a single goal and commitment—to end homelessness. The Trust’s initial objective was quite simply to get people thinking and acting beyond shelter. While our objectives and strategies have evolved considerably since that time, with advocacy playing an ever larger role, and we are now able to draw on the talents of an extraordinary staff, our North Star has remained constant.
Ensure that collaboration is baked into the DNA of the work, and support organizations who bring partners together.
The work we’ve highlighted in this report all involves sophisticated collaborations between very different entities to achieve bold goals.
- Funders for Housing and Opportunity brings together some of the nation’s largest foundations to tackle the affordable housing crisis together.
- Secure Jobs Connecticut builds bridges between housing and workforce development agencies to help families exiting homelessness secure sustainable employment.
- A Way Home America, comprising advocates, researchers, young people, government agencies, youth providers, and philanthropists, is leading the movement to end youth homelessness.
- Reaching Home Connecticut, a well-established statewide collaborative of nonprofits, policymakers, advocates, and people with lived experience, has made impressive progress each year in reducing homelessness across Connecticut. We are longtime supporters of the Partnership for Strong Communities, which coordinates and mobilizes the campaign.
Be nimble, and keep learning from those who know more than we do.
The tennis ball game rewards sharp analytical focus and radical innovation. In our own work, we strive to continuously learn from organizations on the ground as well as people who have experienced homelessness in their lives. Each day we are inspired by the many leaders we deeply respect and whose work we are honored to support. We have profiled eight of them as part of this report.
These are tough times: we and our partners and allies find ourselves faced almost daily with some new erratic, ill-considered, and unilateral attack on the complex web of public-private partnerships it has taken some 30 years to construct.
We knew when we started that the job could not be accomplished through charity alone, but we have done our best to help build the systems any society needs if its people are to flourish. It’s never been quick or easy work, and we are still in it for the long haul.
The work we do and the justice we’re fighting for are more important than ever, now and over the next few years.