Throughout the past two years, work by United Way of Greater Los Angeles carefully built up the capacity of the Los Angeles region’s homeless services sector, one organization at a time. After Measure H passed in 2017, the quick infusion of hundreds of millions of dollars began to strain the homeless services system. In response public and private funders came together to support organizations in building their infrastructure to enable them to successfully grow and scale to serve more people experiencing homelessness.

Steady nurturing allowed this sector to grow thoughtfully. Without these investments,fewer organizations would have been as equipped to respond to increasing inflow into homelessness and help people experiencing homelessness rise to the challenge posed by COVID-19. 

Since July 2018, 78 nonprofits across Los Angeles County have received grants for capacity building projects through a partnership with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA). Measure H overall invested $3.7 million in this effort and with an additional $3.7 million of aligned private funds to support this effort in system enhancement. The final round of funding was awarded in May 2020 to 34 of these partners. 

Each of these grants looks different. It is a one-time grants opportunity for organizations to assess the needs of their organization and the people they serve and make a long term investment. United Way staff work with each organization to help them achieve sustainable growth by identifying the obstacles faced by staff, increasing efficiency, and ultimately enabling them to reach and serve more people in need. 

The pandemic put additional strain on the homeless service system, and providers have been put to the test quickly, scaling up initiatives and bringing people inside at a record pace to safely socially distance. The investments made in organizational capacity over the past two years have contributed to homelessness service organizations’ ability to meet the needs of the moment and rise to the unprecedented challenge that COVID-19 presents.

With collective impact, everyone wins
This capacity building effort brings partners together with a common understanding of homelessness and a commitment to delivering quality services to more people throughout Los Angeles County. This was a truly collaborative process with public and private partners making investments to strengthen the system.

The public investment in 2017 was drawn from Measure H funds, and built the project on a deep partnership with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Agency (LAHSA), which set a foundation for a strong initiative. 

The infusion of private sector dollars through the Home For Good Funders Collaborative created a robust program. Funders Collaborative partners like the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and The Ahmanson Foundation have stepped up to align additional funds to strengthen this effort.

Public resources supported assessment and technical assistance. Measure H funds through LAHSA supported grantees in accessing an objective assessment of their capacity and needs through the Core Capacity Assessment Tool (CCAT), which shows organizations gaps and opportunities for growth and informed work with consultants to address critical needs.

Private funds allow space for infrastructure upgrades. Organizations can purchase essential software, technology, and other costs that enhance their organizational structures, staffing, and services.  . 

An initial investment in industry leaders
The homeless service sector is growing to meet the needs of people experiencing homelessness in LA County. Grants give organizations an opportunity to thoughtfully expand in a sustainable way to serve more clients. Organizations take a deep look inward at what they need. They become stronger and more secure in their work and mission. Then they can make investments accordingly. This includes investments in staff, training, space, and technology.

The collaborative initially focused on leading organizations in each service planning area (SPA), including the Coordinated Entry System (CES) leads. Strengthening SPA leads strengthens homeless services overall throughout the region they serve. One of these organizations is Los Angeles Family Housing, the lead for the San Fernando Valley (SPA 2).  

“The Home For Good Funders Collaborative’s Capacity Building grant supported two important initiatives at LA Family Housing that have helped us grow,” said Stephanie Klasky-Gamer, President & CEO.  “The first helped us develop cash flow planning and capitalization strategies, which strengthened our agency’s financial sustainability. The second supported necessary upgrades to and expansion of our technology infrastructure as we moved into our new home at the Irmas Family Campus, an 80,000-square-foot site which includes a brand new comprehensive service center, a full-service health clinic, 49 new units of permanent supportive housing, and LAFH’s administrative headquarters.” 

A focus on specific populations 
Following initial investments throughout Los Angeles County, we began to learn more about how a range of organizations interact with people experiencing homelessness. In the midst of this process additional gaps and opportunities revealed themselves. A new strategy emerged to expand support for specific populations and organizations that serve clients who are experiencing homelessness. One of these organizations is South Bay-based Rainbow Services, who provide emergency services to women affected by domestic violence.

“Poverty and a lack of affordable housing options continues to be one of the greatest obstacles in achieving safety and stability for survivors. Thirty percent of those experiencing homelessness in California are women. Rainbow Services is dedicated to providing trauma-informed support, including housing options, to survivors and their children.  Working towards this end, we have experienced tremendous growth as we aim to address the intersection of domestic violence and homelessness,” said Elizabeth Eastlund, Executive Director, Rainbow Services. “Through a generous grant made possible by the Home For Good Funders Collaborative, we have been able to make improvements to our technical capacity, which supports us in quickly and accurately capturing data over a broader range of criteria, allowing us to better meet the diverse and pressing needs of our survivors.  We are grateful for the opportunity to partner with them in building better information and technology systems to meet the housing needs of survivors who are at risk of or experiencing homelessness.”

Small organizations make a big difference in South Los Angeles 
Grassroots organizations play an important role providing specialized care with a deep understanding of their community. For this last and final round of capacity building grants, partnerships included a group of community-based organizations in South Los Angeles (or SPA 6). Focusing on the set of collective investments in one area allowed us to meet the unique needs of the region in their efforts to scale and grow.

Disparities in racial equity and access to resources is a longstanding issue that has affected South Los Angeles. Directly in response to this gap, LAHSA hired a local consultant to provide deep insight into strengthening the region. This included work with about a dozen organizations serving people experiencing homelessness to help them grow, and to amplify their impact. To expand on this effort, the capacity building investment brought those efforts to a new level. Fathers and Mothers Who Care is one of the organizations within this cohort.

“Being a grantee of the capacity building grant has been a blessing for us. This award could not have come at a better time with the world in a pandemic; our resources have been stretched to its limit,” said Linda Kelly, Director, Fathers and Mothers Who Care, Inc. “We have been able to upgrade our technology--computers & software with the training--to use them effectively. Our fight to help end homelessness and poverty is our calling; we are proud to serve and call SPA 6 our home.” 

Continued Partnership through United Way and the Funders Collaborative
Organizations begin their capacity building journey by forming a partnership with United Way of Greater Los Angeles. They get the attention and assistance of United Way staff to complete a 12-to-18 month contract, but the partnership extends well beyond that initial period. 

With doors wide open to the United Way network, partners gain connections to industry partners, funders and the expertise of our staff. United Way facilitates meetings and crucial conversations. Following an initial capacity building investment, one partner, Inner City Law, was provided additional support through The Ahmanson Foundation, a Funders Collaborative partner.

“United Way’s capacity building grant provided crucial support for our strategic efforts to grow our staff and expand our programs. We now serve far more people impacted by the homelessness and housing crisis than ever before. We are also grateful to United Way for linking Inner City Law Center to the Funders Collaborative through which we received additional support from The Ahmanson Foundation to enhance our information technology infrastructure,” said Adam Murray, Executive Director, Inner City Law Center. “When the pandemic hit earlier this year, the integrity of our information technology infrastructure saved us. Our upgraded infrastructure enabled us to seamlessly transition to an almost entirely remote work environment without sacrificing the quality of the legal services that we provide to our clients.”

Housing and homeless services is a unique industry that needs innovation, creativity and out of box thinking. United Way brings people together with different perspectives to see the common goal. The collective investments from the last couple of years leveled up and strengthened the County homeless service sector. These investments allowed us to meet the challenges we faced this year. The relationships built and investment in local organizations will be felt for years to come.