Many years ago, a fundraising author changed my entire outlook. She suggested that rather than feeling uncomfortable about “putting the arm” on prospective donors, nonprofit leaders could reframe the conversation to read: I’m giving a caring person the opportunity to be part of something that is worthy of their support.
This is an apt metaphor for where we find ourselves now. COVID-19 has reframed the conversation. Suddenly the specialized world of housing instability and homelessness is everyone’s world. Each of us can clearly see how another person’s economic misfortune and/or loss of housing really CAN affect us directly – if people don’t have a safe place to stay and are on the streets, they can more easily get me sick, and they might even crowd me or a loved one out of a hospital bed! The social fabric, and its non-severability, are newly visible in the harsh light of COVID-19.
These extreme circumstances obviously require major government investment in affordable housing but, just as obviously once you look at true costs, government won’t be able to do it alone. COVID-19’s reframing declares: Housing woes anywhere affect all of us, everywhere. It moves the tent pegs way back and requires more canvas and more people to hold up the bigger tent.
While the opening words in this discourse may come from the housing sector, each community or region needs to build and support a cross-sector squad of leaders with the juice to commit resources and make binding decisions. We need new partners as funders, purveyors of housing units, and data nerds and others to join the effort to increase housing solutions. Business trade groups and large employers, health care institutions, banks, philanthropies and universities all have contributions to bring to this task. In addition, we need people with lived experience – including people of color – at this same planning table, to ensure that planning is responsive and overcomes structural barriers based on and linked to race.
Another factor here is duration: people need to know they are signing on to an ongoing process of creating and sustaining a larger affordable housing footprint – quite simply, as a direct investment in protecting our health.
Some communities are already forging new alliances and setting collective goals. You can get moving on this, wherever you are. Connect with community members, elected leaders and community-focused philanthropies like the United Way. They will quickly understand this holistic analysis – COVID-19 has taught us all a lot about interconnectedness – and can help bring new partners into the conversation.
Yes, this is a heavy lift but that same fundraising author gave me this second nugget: don’t say no for people. This problem is everyone’s problem, and some will agree to join the fray. Here indeed is an opportunity worthy of contribution.