By Todd Cohen
[Note: This was written for Triangle Community Foundation. I am working with the Foundation as senior communications adviser.]
DURHAM, N.C. — Collaboration as a preferred strategy for making an impact on community problems is the focus of growing conversation in the charitable world, although turning that aspiration to cooperate into a working reality can be daunting.
To see a model for how to build a community-wide partnership that is supported by public and private investors and addresses an urgent local need, consider the effort to fight homelessness in Durham.
Housing for New Hope, the lead partner in that effort, was founded in 1992 to prevent and end homelessness in the community.
Starting in 1992, when it received its first federal grant, a core strategy at Housing for New Hope has been to team with public and private partners and funders.
Reinforcing that strategy was $1 million in federal stimulus funding in 2010 that helped inspire the agency to form a partnership with Urban Ministries of Durham, Genesis Home, and the Durham Interfaith Hospitality Network.
That partnership reflected a policy at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that has encouraged community cooperation to address homelessness.
With that funding, the partnership has served 173 households through its collaborative “rapid rehousing” program that aims to help households free themselves from poverty.
The program provides or connects homeless people to permanent housing, and to support services they can use to find the stability they need to keep that housing.
Those federal dollars now are gone, however. So, to generate support to continue and improve the program, the four agencies together approached local foundations and government.
That collective fundraising effort yielded a total of $450,000 in investment from the A.J. Fletcher Foundation and Stewards Fund, both in Raleigh, and from the City of Durham.
With those funds, the collaboration plans to serve at least 80 households over the next year.
Terry Allebaugh, who has served as executive director of Housing for New Hope since it was founded and has spearheaded the collaborative effort to fight homelessness, says private-public investment opens the door to greater flexibility than federal funding allows.
The Durham collaboration has sprouted a range of innovative strategies to help homeless people find their way to financial stability.
Each of the 80 households, for example, will get 50 pounds of food to get started, courtesy of the Food Bank of Eastern and Central North Carolina and the InterFaith Food Shuttle, both based in Raleigh.
Each household will receive a houseful of furnishings for only $288, thanks to The Green Chair Project in Raleigh, as well as a housewarming basket stocked with cleaning supplies and other household items by a group of Durham congregations and civic groups.
The households also will receive training and services to prepare them for the world of work and help place them in jobs through Durham Technical Community College and the Office of Economic and Workforce Development for the City of Durham.
That work-readiness and training program will include classes hosted at Urban Ministries for its clients and those of Genesis Home and Durham Interfaith Hospitality Network.
Some families in the rapid rehousing program will be connected for a year to “Circle of Support” teams of five to seven volunteers recruited by Genesis Home who will provide a range of services, from tutoring and mentoring children and connecting families to employment opportunities and recreational activities to simply listening to family members.
And volunteers from congregations and businesses will be working to help move families into their new homes. Those volunteers, in turn, may want to suggest that their own congregations and businesses provide additional teams on an ongoing basis, widening the concentric circles of neighbors helping neighbors.
A big lesson from the Durham strategy to fight homelessness is that solving complex community problems is a job that increasingly will require creative solutions that engage public and private players, including services providers and investors.
With the serious problems our region faces, all of us should in the Triangle should be talking to one another and looking for ways to build those kinds of cooperative strategies, and to make them work.