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Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Small Grant Maker Fills Resource Gaps for Local Homeless Service Providers

Photograph of the front façade of a four-story building, the Drueding Center.
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Home >Case Studies >Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Small Grant Maker Fills Resource Gaps for Local Homeless Service Providers

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Small Grant Maker Fills Resource Gaps for Local Homeless Service Providers


In 1997, as part of the redevelopment of the Philadelphia Naval Base for nonmilitary purposes, the city of Philadelphia partnered with the Urban Affairs Coalition (UAC) to repurpose 400 naval housing units to serve families experiencing homelessness. Because the housing site had limited access to public transit, jobs, and services, the city sold the property for market-rate development and used the proceeds from the sale to capitalize the Homeless Assistance Fund, Inc. (HAFI). HAFI was incorporated in 2004 to be a flexible source of funding for organizations that use evidence-based practices to transition families and individuals from homeless shelters to permanent housing. HAFI provides grants to cover costs that often are overlooked but are necessary to create and maintain housing stability for grantee beneficiaries. Although HAFI is a minimally staffed organization providing small grants, the organization received the 2020 HUD Secretary’s Award for Public-Philanthropic Partnerships for its innovative grant-making model.

HAFI’s Grantmaking Process

HAFI is a small foundation with no physical office; it relies on a part-time executive director with expertise in philanthropy who outsources skills and expertise to facilitate grantmaking. The director serves a 12-member board. Four seats on the board are reserved for two UAC representatives and two directors from the city’s Office of Homeless Services and the Division of Housing and Community Development. People with expertise in grantmaking strategy, nonprofit investing, and legal counsel for low-income households hold the remaining eight seats. Board members filling these eight seats serve for a 4-year term, which can be extended once.

The board, with input from volunteers from the city and philanthropic foundations, makes final decisions on grant awards. The process begins when Philadelphia’s Office of Homeless Services distributes HAFI’s request for proposals to homeless service providers in the city. The review committee, which typically receives no more than 20 proposals, scores applications according to 6 criteria: organizational capacity, program quality, addressing challenges, partnerships/networks, effective use of data, and resource allocation and leverage.

2019 to 2020 Grant Cycle Funds Youth Experiencing Homelessness

HAFI received $4.66 million from the sale of the naval housing property and uses the interest earned to fund its grants. Since 2007, more than $3 million in grant funding has assisted nearly 2,000 households through 77 grants for 19 organizations. Each grant cycle targets a different population, taking evolving needs into account; in the most recent grant cycle, from 2019 to 2021, HAFI provided $209,000 in grants to six organizations supporting youth aged 16 to 25 who are coping with trauma; are single parents; or are members of the lesbian gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning (LGBTQ) community. Because of disruptions caused by COVID-19, HAFI decided to extend its 2019 to 2021 grants to a third year. The Drueding Center, Women Against Abuse, and Valley Youth House are among the grantees who received assistance for startup housing costs.

The Drueding Center received HAFI funds for its transitional housing program, which uses the Sanctuary® Model, an evidenced-based template for trauma-informed care, to support parents between the ages of 18 and 24 and their children. The organization budgeted $10,250 from HAFI’s grant extension to pay for utility arrearages and $23,250 for furniture and household items.

Women Against Abuse also uses the Sanctuary Model to help 30 families transition to permanent housing through its Safe at Home Program. HAFI’s third-year funds provide approximately $700 per household to purchase beds, children's desks, and other furniture.

Valley Youth House (VYH) has multiple programs that offer cognitive behavioral therapy to help homeless LGBTQ individuals heal from traumatic experiences. VYH is using HAFI funds for its PRIDE program, which provides supportive housing to LGBTQ youth who are aged 18 to 24. Of the 48 PRIDE program participants, 29 received additional HAFI funding in 2022: 15 received money for move-in costs and 14 received one-time rental assistance to avoid eviction.

Flexible Support for Philanthropy Network

As with the decision to extend grants during the COVID epidemic, HAFI’s small staff and limited bureaucracy allow the organization to be flexible and creative in supporting grantees. HAFI also provided the 2019 to 2021 grantees $10,000 each for general operational costs that arose during the pandemic. The board also decided to ask the grantees to submit an application to fund racial justice efforts. HAFI’s flexibility is also the impetus for an annual meeting in which grantees and board members brainstorm and strategize new housing solutions. At a recent meeting, one grantee advocated a shared-housing model, in which unrelated adults become housemates. HAFI contacted other foundations to raise $25,000 for a consultant who interviewed experts from around the country. VYH and Women Against Abuse were among the organizations that served on the advisory committee for the research, which influenced some shared-housing activity throughout the city. For the next round of funding, which will start July 2022, HAFI’s executive director, Janet Kroll, is working with board members to explore how HAFI can support African-American-led nonprofits.



The contents of this article are the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the U.S. Government.