Our society is struggling with dramatic increases in homelessness and poverty. Rising housing costs are part of the problem. No longer being able to earn a livable wage as an unskilled laborer also contributes. Lack of mental health facilities for the poor is another cause. Perhaps the greatest contributor to homelessness, though, is our financial system. Before we can fight homelessness, we have to overcome our capitalist limitations.
In an ideal society, neighbors would provide for one another, ensuring that everyone’s basic needs – food, water, and shelter – were met, regardless of income or the ability to contribute. In our capitalist culture, though, we’ve attached a monetary value to everything, and basic human rights are often only available at a price. As capitalists become more selfish and work to amass more wealth, our government steps in to try to provide for those in need. But government cannot meet everyone’s needs without resorting to a pure socialist agenda, something that voters are not ready to accept.
The most effective funding mechanism for fighting homelessness is through a variety of grants, both public and private. Any group of motivated citizens can apply for grant funding and have some impact on homelessness. They will also need to develop relationships with local government, property owners, nearby neighborhoods, and the homeless community. But the bottom line always comes down to funding.
It’s easy to find grants offered specifically to combat homelessness. GrantWatch.com is a convenient search engine for grants in specific states for specific purposes. The site charges a small fee for access to details, and provides tools and support for applicants. Most major corporations maintain a charitable giving program. From the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to the Walmart Foundation, everyone wants a reputation for being community minded, and many are extremely generous, especially in the effort to provide for basic human needs.
There are requirements, of course, for any grant program. The funding organizations rarely give to individuals or businesses. They fund government programs and registered non-profits. They want to ensure that their money is used wisely and for the purpose intended, so there are rules about record-keeping, approved spending, project timing and completion, and partnering with other organizations. It’s common to see a requirement that half the funding comes from another source. There are often waiting periods and feasibility studies, permit applications, real estate deals, and government oversight. Grant writing, or submitting an application for a grant, is so complex and specific that most charities hire a specialist to navigate the process. Professional help is also necessary for project management and accountability to the grantor of funds. Especially in the area of providing public housing or low-income housing, a great many rules and expectations are involved. Every level of government, from state to home owners’ associations, has to be consulted, heard, and accommodated.
Many community groups, put off by the complexity of grant applications and approvals, skip the whole funding step and just organize to help where they can. Free Hot Soup, a group started in Portland OR and spreading to other cities on the west coast, started with a handful of neighbors cooking a hearty meal and sharing it on the streets downtown. The Portland group has over 2,000 members and for many of them, making soup was just a jumping off place. They now work with homeless groups to establish self-sufficient camps. A couple of people formed a support coalition to advocate for the homeless with local government. Protests are organized. Phone calls are made, Letters are written. Enough people care about their unhoused neighbors that there is constant pressure on city government to address the problem with all possible resources. This kind of pressure can result in the city applying for grants to relieve homelessness and relieving the activists of the headaches of grant writing!
Applying for and receiving grants to fight homelessness is one small piece of the puzzle. It’s an important piece, and a complex one, but not the only one. Without community communication, government oversight, a strong motivated team, and a solid relationship with the people themselves who are experiencing homelessness, money has very little power. A grant is one of many tools needed to get the job done.
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