When you consider any of society’s most pressing problems, from homelessness to climate change to economic inequality, it’s clear that no one person, program or system can solve those challenges alone.
For example, homelessness is a complex problem at the intersection of housing affordability, healthcare, the justice system, and more. You’d be hard pressed to find a sector that doesn’t have a role in solving the climate crisis. Economic inequality encompasses education, the private sector, health care, transportation, the list goes on and on.
So why, despite a clear need to work across sectors to solve stubborn problems, are cross-sector partnerships the exception, not the rule?
Below are three reasons why I think cross-sector partnership are uncommon, and how I think funders can build bridges between systems to tackle big, complex challenges.
Challenge 1: Systems are perfectly designed to produce the exact results they’re getting.
Last year, McKinsey and Co. released a report on homelessness that spelled out in stark detail what many of us who live in and around Seattle already knew—despite everything we have done to stem the tide, homelessness is getting worse.
The report cited the region’s painful lack of affordable housing as a chief culprit among an array of compounding factors, including loss of job and substance abuse. It also, counterintuitively, showed how much our homelessness crisis response system has improved over the years. From 2016 to 2017 alone, our government partners moved 35 percent more households into permanent housing, and yet the number of people on streets has continued to rise. There’s no doubt we’re getting better at helping people move from homelessness to housing—but as it stands the system simply can’t keep pace with the number of people falling into homelessness.
We’re excited to announce that we’re building on our partnership with the Accelerator YMCA and the Medina Foundation to work with King County, Friends of Youth and the Pearl Jam Fund to expand the Host Homes King County program.
Host Homes are a promising solution to help house youth and young adults who are experiencing homelessness. Host Homes are temporary placements for youth, typically about six months, that provide a safe and stable base while the young person searches for employment, permanent housing or works to complete an education goal.
For those looking for a concrete way to make a difference for the community and in the fight against homelessness, Host Homes can be a good opportunity to get involved and contribute. By some estimates there are more than 200,000 spare rooms in King County, enough to house every young person experiencing homelessness in our region more than 100 times over.
Each year our community brings together a small army of volunteers for the Point-In-Time (PIT) count. Coordinated by All Home, the PIT count aims to both tally the number of people experiencing homelessness on a single night, as well as gather information about their needs so that our community can improve the homeless crisis response system.
This year’s report shows that while the number of people experiencing homelessness has continued to increase in our region, there are signs of hope and a path forward. Overall youth and young adult homelessness stayed steady (an increase of only 1 percent), but the number of homeless young people under the age of 18 decreased by more than 20 percent since 2017.