Gates Foundation Joins Others in Goal to Cut Homelessness
March 19, 2009, Seattle Times — A partnership of governments, businesses and nonprofits is pledging today to redouble its efforts to help the growing number of homeless families in Washington state. The pledge includes up to $60 million over 10 years by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Partners in the Washington Families Fund vowed to reduce the number of homeless families by 50 percent over the next decade.
"I feel this is an opportunity right now, as much as I'm a realist about the economy," said Alice Shobe, deputy director of Building Changes, which administers the fund. "It is ambitious, but we have a vision about how to do it. We have the creativity and broad partnership to make it happen."
As the recession throws more people into poverty, "we must do more to help families achieve and maintain stability," said Gov. Chris Gregoire, who signed an agreement with King, Snohomish and Pierce counties and the cities of Seattle, Everett and Tacoma to collaborate with the private partners.
Created by the state Legislature in 2004, the Washington Families Fund has received contributions of more than $20 million — $12 million from the state and $8.3 million from 18 other partners, including the Gates Foundation, Boeing, Microsoft, the Campion Foundation, the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, the Ben B. Cheney Foundation and United Way. It has awarded $13 million in grants so far.
The Washington Families Fund has not yet revealed any new financial commitments other than the Gates Foundation's pledge.
Governments and private groups together spend about $200 million a year to address the problem in Washington state, but as economic conditions worsen, the number of homeless families keeps going up. About half of the state's estimated 22,000 homeless households are families with children.
The family of Jackilin Abiem, 25, was one of them. She arrived in 2001 as an orphan from Sudan after fleeing civil war and walking for three months across the country and eventually to a refugee camp. Once in Washington, she lived with two foster families, graduated from Garfield High School and landed her first job at McDonald's.