Ending homelessness requires the commitment of our entire community. To shed more light on the ways individuals can contribute to our collective efforts, we are spotlighting our longtime partners Jody and Curtis Chang.
Jody and Curtis initially connected with Destination: Home in 2018 when they were looking for a way to invest the proceeds from their first home back into the community. They were acutely aware that the hot housing market they were benefiting from was causing a strain and a cost-burden on local renters, and pushing many to the brink of homelessness. With this in mind and led by their faith, it was important to them to use the appreciated value to help other people stay housed. Through Jody’s work with the Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund (SV2), they discovered a new initiative being launched by Destination: Home and its partners to help people stay housed – the Santa Clara County Homelessness Prevention System (HPS). It was a perfect fit, and they’ve remained steadfast supporters of the program ever since.
Jody and Curtis recently sat down with us to share their motivation for investing in homelessness prevention, why they think it’s important to center community, and other ways individuals can get involved in efforts to prevent and end homelessness. The following is a slightly edited version of our discussion.
As a longtime supporter of the Santa Clara County Homelessness Prevention System, why is prevention a compelling solution to our homelessness crisis for you?
JODY: At the time we first connected with Destination: Home, we were becoming more educated and aware of the strains and challenges on renters – the reality that relatively small crises like a car payment, a car repair or a medical bill can really be the difference between staying housed and being evicted. We were also learning about the devastating consequences of eviction on a family so we were interested in a solution that would help renters meet those bumps in their expenses so they could stay housed.
It seemed obvious to us that helping people stay housed – preventing homelessness – is a first step upstream to solving our challenges in the housing system in Silicon Valley.
Tell us more about what motivates you to partner with nonprofits and the community.
CURTIS: We’re big believers in supporting organizations and leaders working at the closest level to the problem. The reality is that when you are talking about both the financing model and the dollars involved in building affordable housing, it’s very hard for individuals like us to have a meaningful role at that scale. The question for us was, ‘How do we, as individual donors, get connected?’ HPS felt like a good way for us to touch this problem and it’s a great way for us to be involved with the kinds of organizations we know best, both grassroots community organizations as well as sector-wide organizations like Destination: Home. The problems in our housing crisis also have a significant local dimension to them. There are some things that nonprofits do better than large government programs because they’re closer to the ground and have grassroots connections. That’s a key part of the solution to any social problem.
We’re curious how, in your work, you ensure that what you’re doing and your contributions align with what community members or people with lived experience say that they need or want.
JODY: If you want your giving to be effective, then it’s very important that it’s centered in community voice, since people in the community tend to know the best interventions or solutions to the challenges that their communities are facing. It’s often difficult for individual givers to practice or have a setting to learn more about that. As an individual giver myself, I’ve been fortunate to be exposed to those ideas through SV2. We spend a lot of time in relationship with community and our grant process includes community members and community leaders, both as part of the decision-making team and also as part of the learning process. For Curtis, in his work as a consultant, being very close to nonprofit leaders came naturally. For both of us, it is very important that community is centered in the organizations that we support financially. We look for leaders who believe in that and organizations whose strategy and work clearly indicate a value for people with lived experience, both on the staff team and hearing from constituents.
We know that when we look at the media landscape and public opinion, it’s become increasingly negative toward people who are experiencing homelessness. As individuals, and members of the community yourselves, what role do you think individuals can play in trying to counteract this negativity?
JODY: Stories are motivating to humans, so hearing stories from people who are housed and contributing to the solution – like you are offering us the opportunity to do today – and hearing stories from people who were unhoused and now are housed – is really important. Sometimes it is just being brave and speaking up when you experience NIMBYism in your neighborhood or on your street.
What do you think are the biggest challenges that we face right now to ending and preventing homelessness? And what do you think are some of the things that we should be doing to overcome those barriers?
JODY: The lack of affordable housing is a big challenge. Building – which obviously Destination: Home is working on, day in and day out – requires government investment, large institutional investors, and also the kind of community-building and relationship-building that creates integrated communities where people feel like everyone benefits when people are housed.
CURTIS: There are solutions and there are competent organizations and government leaders working on this. That’s an effort we’ve all got to undertake as individuals in the community, as members of organizations like Destination: Home, and as public leaders. We’ve got to actually be telling the stories as well as the data, and making the case for why this isn’t a hopeless problem.
We know collective effort is necessary to prevent and end homelessness in our community. What role do you see yourselves and other individuals playing in that?
CURTIS: The issue is so systemic that it can sometimes seem abstract and out of reach to the typical individual resident, especially in Silicon Valley. We think, ‘It’s got to be a big government program, with federal dollars.’ The danger is if you do not give individuals a way to feel like they can touch the issue, then they become distant from it and you risk losing political will. If you don’t have a way to build some sense of political support – community ownership of the homelessness problem – then people feel like they don’t have a stake in the solution.
Doing something like investing in the Homelessness Prevention System is a great way for individuals to feel like their money is helping other individuals and families stay out of homelessness. These are crises that, as a human being, you can understand and touch, and it’s at a scale that can make a difference.
What advice would you give your neighbors, family members, or other individuals in the community looking to get involved in efforts to prevent and end homelessness?
JODY: I would tell them to engage with community-based nonprofits who are doing great work in this area – organizations whose leadership they trust and who are doing effective and impactful work. Also, learn about the challenge and the solutions. Many individual givers aren’t aware that their funding could help. I would also tell them to vote!