Partnerships to eradicate homelessness: rethinking global funding

by | Mar 17, 2024 | News

As Director of Fundraising at Depaul International, I am privileged to work alongside some incredible women. From our Chair, Helen, to the 75%-female team at Depaul International, to the hundreds of other amazing women throughout the Depaul Group who are all passionately committed to achieving a world where homelessness has no place.

Last month, one of these amazing women, Lydia Stazen, Executive Director of The Ruff Institute of Global Homelessness and Chair of the United Nations Working Group to End Homelessness, invited me to speak at an official side event of the UN’s 62nd Commission for Social Development on the theme of partnerships to eradicate homelessness.

Homelessness is a growing, global crisis which affects 1 in 5 people on the planet and impacts every country in the world. Rates of homelessness are rising sharply across the globe, yet across the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their 169 indicators, homelessness is not mentioned once. As someone new to the sector, I was surprised at how normalised homelessness has become. And how grossly underfunded it is. How can an issue which has such a devastating impact on lives and communities be so overlooked?

Often when asked to describe someone experiencing homelessness, the image used is stereotyped – a man, sleeping on the street, perhaps with a sleeping bag tucked up to his chin. But Depaul’s work around the world shows how much more there is to it than this.

During last month’s trip to the USA, I was privileged to meet three people, all women, who have been affected by homelessness. The first was Daisy*, a brilliant young woman, whose prospects for the future have been immeasurably altered by Depaul USA’s Dax program which provides housing and support to students affected by homelessness. The second was Katriona, who left school at 15, pregnant and experiencing homelessness, who is now one of Ireland’s leading academics. The third was Elizabeth, my co-speaker at the UN event.

Elizabeth is a single mother of six and grandmother of four who spent 18 years in and out of the Brooklyn homeless shelter system. As Elizabeth shared her story of repeatedly fighting her way out of homelessness only to find herself homeless once more, I could understand why she said, “being in this situation felt like I would never see a way out.”

All three women have proved, without question, that there is a way out. We know homelessness can be ended. We even know how to end it. What the sector lacks is the funds to actually end it. If we want to eradicate homelessness, we need to urgently rethink how it’s funded. I covered this and more during my speech at the UN. It is summarised below.

There is currently no global funding for homelessness

Homelessness is finally receiving the recognition it rightly deserves as a global issue. Yet global homelessness funders remain few and far between, particularly as other, more high-profile issues continue to gain prominence.

The Global Fund has proven what can happen when the global funding community truly comes together on a solvable problem.  And while the eradication of malaria or HIV/Aids, and the eradication of homelessness are not the same thing, homelessness is an equally solvable issue.

To truly end homelessness, we’ll need political will, policy change and unprecedented statutory funding. An equivalent of a Global Fund to end homelessness could prove pivotal to unlocking this.

The funding that currently exists is largely inaccessible to the majority of providers

If we start to unlock these big global funds, there’s a real danger that the smaller organisations, who are the lifeblood of the homelessness sector, will be excluded, particularly in countries with developing economies.

I was recently involved in a large funding bid which ran to 40, highly technical pages. On one hand, it was fantastic to see the very significant financial investments being made, and the focus on innovative solutions to end homelessness. On the other hand, it was a stark reminder of the immense challenges of leveraging such funding opportunities for all but the largest NGOs.

How many smaller NGOs would be able to pass the due diligence to even get accepted onto one of these frameworks? If they did get the funding, how many would be completely overwhelmed with contract management and the very arduous reporting requirements that many are now calling the death of innovation? As we work to eradicate homelessness, we have to ensure that the critical contribution of smaller NGOs is not overlooked.

Intermediary organisations have much to bring

In recent years, immense progress has been made to address historical power imbalances between international NGOs and local actors. Yet the unintended consequence is that intermediary organisations are being increasingly side-lined despite the pivotal role they can play in marrying international capacity with local knowledge.

Depaul’s work in Ukraine proved that true partnership working is not just possible, but that it should be actively encouraged. Our response was driven by a locally managed and governed team already deeply embedded in the local community. They knew where the needs were greatest, enabling them to respond rapidly.

Yet, what made this work possible was being able to call upon the capacity, expertise, networks, and significant funding leveraged by the wider international group. True partnership working with the strengths of a local NGO and a larger international body created a whole that was significantly greater than the sum of its parts.

Partnerships to eradicate homelessness need to enable both a global-to-local and local-to-global response – and I believe intermediary organisations have a vital role to play.

No-one is focused on changing this globally – yet

It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the enormity of the task ahead. The vast sums of money required, and the absence of a co-ordinated response dedicated to homelessness funding.

Yet the stories of people like Elizabeth, Daisy* and Katriona remind us that, by working together, we can eradicate homelessness. And we must.

As we continue to progress strategies to raise awareness of and address homelessness within the UN ecosystem and beyond, let’s make sure we commit to including global cooperation on funding within that. To ensuring that funding partnerships are inclusive of organisations of all sizes. That intermediary organisations are not overlooked. And that we each play our part in making this happen.

When coordinated and inclusive funding becomes part of the partnership mix, we will be able to make great strides towards the eradication of homelessness and a world where everyone has the dignity and security of a place to call home.

Join the conversation

The movement to radically change how homelessness is funded is just getting started. To join the conversation, drop me a line at

Justine Trumper, Director of Fundraising, Depaul International