Designing an equitable homeless response system

Published: June 28, 2021

Building Changes has partnered with four Washington organizations to improve access and services for families of color experiencing homelessness in their communities.

We believe we cannot meaningfully address family homelessness without addressing systemic racism. Historical and persistent racism is inherent in our society and systems. As a result, Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) are more likely to face housing crisis and continue to be overrepresented among people experiencing homelessness. At the same time, BIPOC families experiencing homelessness are not getting their needs met in the homeless response system.

These facts are well documented. In the U.S., the Center for Social Innovation found that an estimated 65% of people experiencing homelessness were Black compared to 28% who were white. Available Washington State data also show that there are racial and ethnic disparities among people entering and exiting the homeless system, indicating that there is an implicit bias in the system.

Organizations need resources to design and deliver responses that equitably serve their communities. With funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and building off our learnings from the Family Homelessness Initiative, Building Changes has launched the Equitable Homeless System Design project. The goal of the project is to support communities to provide services that are collaboratively designed, culturally appropriate, and grounded in the experiences of families of color experiencing homelessness, so that those who receive these services are safely and stably housed.

Four organizations were selected to participate in the project through an application process that sought out people and organizations working to transform the homeless response system. Having clearly communicated how they would improve experiences and outcomes for families of color in their communities, each organization will receive $200,000 to plan, design, and begin implementation of their strategies by the end of 2022. Organizations will also receive training, guidance, and support from Building Changes for the next year and a half.

Our four partners in this project are:

  • Port of Support: Port of Support is a recently established Black women-led nonprofit organization located in Thurston County. They are focused on supporting the Black community, by providing services to help meet people’s individual needs. Stephanie Taylor is the CEO and founder of Port of Support. She is inspired by Black leaders like James Baldwin and takes to heart when he said, “The paradox of education is precisely this—that as one begins to become conscious, one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.” She believes that the work to change systems starts with individual change and brings this critical mindset into her advocacy efforts.
  • Helping Hands Project Organization: Helping Hands Project Organization is another recently established nonprofit organization led by women of color. They are focused on helping communities of color meet their basic needs and provides resources and access to services. Although they currently work in King and Snohomish counties, they are expanding their work to Skagit and Island counties. Vivian Obah is the founder of Helping Hands Project Organization. She explained why her organization is best poised to be a partner for the project and said, “We emphasize the need for change that would ensure a system where communities that have been historically marginalized are able to thrive.”
  • Yakima Neighborhood Health Services: Yakima Neighborhood Health Services is a homeless service and healthcare provider located in Yakima County. Latinx populations make up half of the population in Yakima County and Yakima Neighborhood Health Services primarily serves Latinx families. They are also a service center for many partners in the area, including the Yakama Nation. “This is an exciting opportunity for our community to open our prioritization process and look at it through a refreshed lens of equity. We’re going to include perspectives from a diverse representation of consumers, highlighting any barriers or inequities that discouraged them (or just made it harder) from getting housed,” said Rhonda Hauff, CEO of Yakima Neighborhood Health Services.
  • Share: Share is nonprofit organization located in Clark County. They are a homeless service provider that provides emergency shelter and various housing programs. They are focused on providing housing stability and retention for those exiting their shelters. Share also wants to deepen their commitment in providing equitable programs by addressing barriers to shelter access and improving their internal processes. “We see ourselves as being responsible to make significant change because we play a significant role in our community,” said Amy Reynoldson, the deputy director of Share.

The Equitable Homeless System Design project will help nonprofit organizations across Washington to improve access and services for families of color experiencing homelessness. Building Changes is excited to partner with and support these organizations to address racial inequities in the homeless response system.

“We have an opportunity to bring systems change into programs and that means funding projects and people closest to the problem,” said Dimitri Groce, one of the senior managers leading the project at Building Changes. “We want organizations to do it in a way where they’re being inclusive and making sure racial equity is being embedded in organizations’ work internally and externally.”

To learn more about Building Changes’ Equitable Homeless Systems Design project, contact Dimitri Groce.

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