I generally sleep very well. However, thinking about the chart above has been keeping me up at night.
I serve on the board of The Road Home – the largest homeless shelter in Utah. The staff for TRH does incredible work raising funds and using those funds to meet the needs of the homeless community in the greater Salt Lake City area. The chart above shows both the terrific success of TRH and the problem we are currently facing.
The top two lines show the relative increase in demand for homeless services in terms of individuals seeking emergency shelter and individuals The Road Home is helping in various housing programs. (Important note, for convenience, I have scaled all these numbers to show yearly percentage change and be able to compare them).
The housing number is interesting because for years The Road Home has, correctly, pursued a “housing first” strategy. As homeless demand has increased, The Road Home has been able to help meet that increased demand with the same physical resources because of the increase in housing units and housing programs. The flow of individuals through shelter has increased, and that has increased capacity.
The point is that demand for homeless services is growing quickly.
The lower two lines show the increase in private donations to The Road Home over the last ten years, and the increase in total charitable giving in the United States according to Giving USA.
The good news in this chart is that our local community has stepped up and largely met the increased demand for homeless services with increased private donations. These private donations have increased at an average annual rate of almost 10% over the last 10 years compared with an average annual rate of increase of only 2.87% for general charitable giving in the US. In other words, when looked at with a competitive lens, The Road Home is taking share in terms of charitable dollars.
My concern is the combination of these two trends. Unfortunately, as the population continues to grow, it is realistic to believe that the demand for homeless services will continue to grow in my community. Unfortunately, it’s unrealistic to believe that growth in private donations will continue to grow significantly faster than the overall growth in charitable giving.
The idea that a gap will emerge between an ever growing problem involving real human need and the financial resources necessary to meet that need keeps me up at night.