Viewpoint: What business can do to ease homelessness

In a new op-ed for the Washington Business Journal, our President and CEO Bruce McNamer discusses what we learned from a conversation with Mayor Bowser and corporate executives at Salesforce, Zillow, Cisco, and Kaiser Permanente about what it will take to address homelessness and the affordable housing crisis. He shares key takeaways about how the local business community can step up its investments of resources, voice, and leadership to help ensure more of our neighbors have a place to call home.

Let’s End Homelessness Together: The Daniel and Karen Mayers’ Challenge

Daniel and Karen Mayers

Daniel and Karen Mayers

There was a time when ending homelessness in the District of Columbia seemed impossible. Today, many people, including Daniel and Karen Mayers, believe that goal is within reach. That is why they have donated $100,000 to begin the Dan and Karen Mayers’ Challenge. The Challenge aims to raise $1 million for the Partnership to End Homelessness. It is with a sense of both urgency and optimism that Dan and Karen challenge others to join them in ensuring that homelessness is rare, brief and non-recurring in DC.

“In the past, homelessness was seen as an intractable problem,” says Dan, a leader in charitable giving in DC for nearly six decades. “Today, we have the leadership, tools, plan, and political will to end homelessness. The only thing missing is critical resources.”

“It’s easy to feel overwhelmed trying to address the many important issues facing our city,” adds Karen. “Here is a concrete problem with a concrete solution.”

In partnership with the District government’s Interagency Council on Homelessness, The Community Foundation has identified an effective way for the local philanthropic community to play a significant role in ending homelessness. The core elements of the Partnership include coordination and engagement of the local business and philanthropic communities, a grant fund to support expenses that transition individuals and families from shelters into homes, and an impact investment that aims to increase the supply of deeply affordable and supportive housing for the District’s most marginalized residents.

A Long History of Philanthropy

Dan and Karen credit The Community Foundation with informing their philanthropy and introducing them to the region’s most effective nonprofits going back many years. Dan is The Community Foundation’s longest serving board member, having previously served as chair of the Board of Directors and of the Governance Board of The Community Foundation’s September 11 Survivors’ Fund. A retired senior partner at the Washington, DC, law firm WilmerHale, he was board chair of the Harvard Law School Visiting Committee, Legal Action Center, National Child Resource Center, National Symphony Orchestra, Sidwell Friends School and WETA.

A retired social worker, Karen also has seen the District’s challenges up close while serving as board chair of House of Ruth, vice chair of Iona Senior Services, board member of Home Care Partners and the Higher Achievement Program and, most recently, as a member of The Community Foundation’s Sharing DC Advisory Committee.

More and more, Dan and Karen have focused their philanthropy on groups serving low-income individuals and families. Dan helped to guide The Community Foundation’s Neighbors in Need Fund, established during the recession to strengthen the region’s safety-net providers and services, and the couple were major donors to the fund.

A Lasting Impact

In making the inaugural gift to launch the Dan and Karen Mayers’ Challenge, they hope to inspire others who share their concern for the District’s marginalized residents. They also are motivated by a desire to have a lasting impact in the city they have called home for 60 years.

Dan and Karen recognize that their gift—a substantial percentage of their philanthropic dollars—is just a beginning. But, says Karen, “we have no doubt that the community is up to this challenge.” So far, the Challenge has raised $600,000 from the Mayers’ family, friends and The Community Foundation’s Board of Trustees.

“This is what community foundations do—they respond to community need,” adds Dan. “Time and again, I’ve witnessed The Community Foundation galvanize the generosity of concerned residents. I’ve seen compassionate people rally around urgent community needs, from natural disasters to 9/11 to the recession.”

Bruce McNamer, The Community Foundation’s President and CEO, echoed Dan and Karen’s optimism: “It’s hard to fathom living in such a wealthy society and not coming together to solve this problem. Together, let’s ensure that every one of our neighbors has a safe and stable place to call home.”

Learn More

To learn more about the Partnership to End Homelessness, visit If you would like to contribute to the Mayers’ Challenge, please contact Angela Willingham, Associate Vice President of Development or give online.


How Do We End Youth Homelessness in DC?

Guest Post by Ramina Davidson, Director of Housing Stability & Youth Initiatives, DC Alliance of Youth Advocates (DCAYA)

The Greater Washington Community Foundation and our community of donors have funded DCAYA since 2005, when The Community Foundation served as DCAYA’s fiscal sponsor during the organization’s development. Funding has been awarded for general operating support, program support and organizational capacity building, as well as youth civic engagement, youth homelessness/housing and youth workforce-related initiatives.

Washington, DC has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the nation. The 2018 Youth Count DC estimated that more than 1,300 unaccompanied youth, youth separated from family, and youth heads of household were experiencing homelessness or housing instability (e.g. couch surfing or doubled up) in September 2018. Data from DC’s education agencies also revealed almost 6,000 students enrolled in school are homeless or housing unstable. How do we end youth homelessness in the District of Columbia?

Homelessness or housing instability, generally, is the denial of the right to stable, safe housing. For youth, this denial often manifests through multiple, recurring inequities in the systems that support families and youth (e.g. educational agencies, child and family services agencies) and societal inequities generally (e.g. racism, homophobia, generational poverty). In order to correct systems inequities, power over those systems must be ceded to those individuals the systems have failed to serve.

Over the last decade, DCAYA has steadily been working to shift power to the youth who are experiencing homelessness and housing instability themselves. This led to the creation of DC’s Interagency Council on Homelessness’ Youth Committee, a committee where dozens of organizations, agencies, advocates, and individuals work together to end youth homelessness—including youth who are directly affected by these issues.

In Spring 2017, in partnership with the DC Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH), The Community Foundation hosted a special event to release Solid Foundations DC, the  District’s first-ever strategic plan to prevent and end youth homelessness . Solid Foundations DC is the first data-driven youth homelessness plan in the country.

In Spring 2017, in partnership with the DC Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH), The Community Foundation hosted a special event to release Solid Foundations DC, the District’s first-ever strategic plan to prevent and end youth homelessness. Solid Foundations DC is the first data-driven youth homelessness plan in the country.

Last year, through persistent advocacy, DC’s youth homelessness system saw several advancements inching us closer to shifting the balance of power. The most notable advancement was the establishment of “Through the Eyes of Youth,” a workgroup of the Youth Committee and DC’s first advisory group of youth with lived experience of homelessness or housing instability. Tasked with guiding the Youth Committee’s implementation of Solid Foundations DC, DC’s first comprehensive plan to end youth homelessness, these youth are paid advisors who share their expertise regarding failures and successes of the systems meant to serve them. These advisory group members guide all aspects of the plan, from bettering the annual homeless youth census to improving resource allocation to developing new and innovative programs.

For example, inspired by feedback from the youth advisory group, the system improved the implementation of its annual homeless youth census, Youth Count DC, to reveal a clearer picture of how young people experience homelessness. For the first time, the census captured where youth have stayed in the past, as well as where they think they may stay in the future. As a result, the total number of youth experiencing homelessness and housing instability rose by hundreds, reflecting more accurate counting that gives policymakers a better understanding of the causes of youth homelessness, and thus better ability to implement successful interventions.

In addition, system improvements included development of three new youth homelessness initiatives: Rapid Rehousing for Youth, Extended Transitional Housing (a new longer-term housing program), and a Drop-In Center that provides 24-hour care. Because DCAYA was able to secure full funding for all new projects in 2018, these new initiatives are currently being implemented and will ensure that hundreds more youth in DC have access to tailored resources than in years prior.

DC’s youth homelessness services system continues to gain momentum in its effort to end youth homelessness. Through collaborative education and advocacy, more partners join in the fight to end youth homelessness every day, and we couldn’t do this work without the support of funders like the Greater Washington Community Foundation. Driving major system change requires stable, multi-year investments. Realizing the change we seek is not a one- or even two-year endeavor. The multi-year funding support and thought partnership of the Greater Washington Community Foundation has been integral to the progress our community has made.

As we continue work to transfer power over systems that serve youth experiencing homelessness and housing instability into the hands of those youth themselves, we know we must not rest on our laurels. A seat at the table is a start, but our work is not done until youth are calling the meeting.

Mayor Bowser and Greater Washington Community Foundation Launch Public-Private Partnership to End Homelessness in DC

Today, Mayor Muriel Bowser along with her Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) and the Greater Washington Community Foundation announced the launch of the Partnership to End Homelessness. This first-of-its-kind initiative in the District aims to galvanize private sector engagement and unite the public and private sectors around a shared strategy to address homelessness and housing insecurity in the nation’s capital.

The Partnership will advance effective and innovative solutions to help our most marginalized and economically disadvantaged neighbors (0-60% Area Median Income) and ensure that homelessness is rare, brief and non-recurring in DC.

On any given night, more than 6,500 individuals, youth and families experience homelessness, including more than 1,500 children. This is due in large part to rising housing costs that outpace local incomes and a shortage of affordable housing, which are preventing many people from participating in the region’s economic growth. In DC, a person earning minimum wage would have to work nearly three full-time jobs to afford an apartment suitable for a family, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

The Partnership aims to increase the availability of philanthropic and private capital to expand the capacity of nonprofit housing developers and supportive service providers to help more of our neighbors transition from the streets or emergency shelters into permanent homes. It will also offer an impact investment option to reduce housing insecurity by financing the development of deeply affordable and supportive housing.

“We know that ending homelessness is possible, but that it is going to take all of us from the public and private sectors working together across all eight wards,” said Mayor Bowser. “Through our Homeward DC plan, we are implementing evidence-based solutions and transforming our homeless services system. And while there is more work to do, we are on the right track—family homelessness has decreased by nearly 45 percent and the number of people experiencing chronic homelessness in the District is lower today than it has been in the last 15 years. The time to double-down on and accelerate our progress is now, and that is why we are so grateful to be partnering with the Greater Washington Community Foundation on these critical efforts to end homelessness in Washington, DC.”

“Homelessness and housing insecurity have not always existed the way they do today. We believe that homelessness is solvable, and we also believe that our community is stronger when we bring everyone along,” said Bruce McNamer, President and CEO of the Greater Washington Community Foundation. “Over the last four years, we have witnessed that our community has the political will, leadership and expertise to move the needle on homelessness. The Bowser Administration has established a strong foundation, but private sector engagement will be critical to long-term success. We cannot afford to waste this moment—we must act now and capitalize on the city’s momentum. Together, we can ensure that every one of our neighbors has a safe, stable and affordable place to call home.”

The Partnership will work to:

  • Increase the supply of deeply affordable and supportive housing;

  • Expand nonprofit capacity to help our neighbors exit homelessness;

  • Shift public perceptions of homelessness through education, community mobilization and advocacy efforts; and

  • Coordinate cross-sector participation to complement government funding and programming.

The Partnership’s Investment Vehicles

The first phase of the Partnership will utilize two different funding vehicles.

Impact Investing

The Community Foundation will seed $5 million from its combined investment fund to launch an impact investment option available to its donors and others who join the Partnership.

The Partnership strives to raise $10 million in investments to help Enterprise Community Loan Fund build and preserve housing units for hundreds of people across the region. While fund investments earn a fixed return, they will aid in bringing financial resources to bear in the fight to end homelessness and housing insecurity by increasing the production of deeply affordable and supportive housing.

Impact Note investments provide financing to organizations building and preserving deeply affordable and supportive housing units. Housing providers leverage this investment capital to create more homes for our most marginalized neighbors.

Grantmaking Fund

The Partnership’s Grantmaking Fund will:

  • Enhance the capacity and expand the network of affordable housing developers and supportive service providers in the community;

  • Provide flexible funding to help nonprofits pay for small expenses not covered by federal and local housing programs—such as rental application fees, security deposits and moving expenses—which can create big barriers to stable housing; and

  • Support innovative approaches and advocacy efforts focused on strengthening policies that impact housing and homelessness.

The Partnership’s first competitive grant cycle will open in August 2019. The first round of grants will provide support for nonprofit providers in DC to help people obtain and maintain permanent housing and reduce the amount of time spent in the homeless services system.

Funding the Partnership

The Partnership has raised and committed $6.6 million to date, including $1.6 million for the grantmaking fund.

The A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation has made the lead investment of $1 million to help launch the Partnership’s Grantmaking Fund. The Clark Foundation’s mission is to expand opportunities for those who demonstrate the drive and determination to better themselves and their communities.

“The Clark Foundation is committed to partnering with regional leaders like The Community Foundation to provide members of the DC community with the best opportunity to thrive,” said Ryan Palmer, Director, DC Community Initiatives for the Foundation. “Stable housing is a critical factor in a person’s path to reaching their full potential. And while homelessness is a significant challenge in our city, it is through collaborating together in partnerships like these that we can make an impact.”

Additionally, The Community Foundation’s longest-serving Trustee, and former Chair of its September 11 Survivors’ Fund, and his wife have donated $100,000 as the inaugural gift to launch the Dan and Karen Mayers’ Challenge. The Mayers issued this challenge to inspire others to help raise $1 million for the Partnership. So far, the Challenge has raised $600,000 from the Mayers’ family, friends and The Community Foundation’s Board of Trustees.

More information about the Partnership can be found at The Partnership’s website offers resources and a variety of ways for individuals and organizations to get involved in our community’s effort to end homelessness in DC.

Businesses and individuals together can end homelessness

In a feature article for the Washington Business Journal’s annual Giving Guide, our CEO Bruce McNamer talks about how it is possible to end homelessness if we can increase the supply of supportive and affordable housing and help individuals and families experiencing homelessness move out of shelters and into a stable home.