The Washington Families Fund

More help for homeless women and children


Like every city in America, Seattle has struggled to address the needs of homeless women and children. In 2000, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation began working with Seattle to develop the Sound Families Program, an initiative to create 1500 transitional housing units in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. The foundation awarded Seattle a $40 million grant to implement the program over five years at that time the largest private donation ever given to address the challenge of homelessness.

As the city and the foundation began working with partners to implement the program, they discovered a missing ingredient: ongoing funding to provide services for homeless families as they work to regain a foothold in the community. Although the foundation set aside $10 million to provide services during the initial five-year period, cutbacks in state and federal funding cast doubt on the sustainability of the services, an essential part of the program’s success. Cedar River Group was asked by the Gates Foundation and the City of Seattle to solve the problem.


Our team designed a model for “sustaining funds” for each Sound Families transitional housing project that would guarantee services funding for the life of the building. The model blended $10 million in services funding from the Gates Foundation with Section 8 vouchers from local housing authorities and a matching commitment from the state Legislature. Cedar River Group then wrote descriptions of the plan and assisted the city and the foundation in approaching key legislators.


The Legislature adopted legislation in 2004 creating the “Washington Families Fund” to blend the contributions from the Gates Foundation and other philanthropies, the housing authorities, and the state to fund support services for homeless women and children in transitional housing projects throughout the state. This public-private partnership is now led by Building Changes. As of the end of 2010, the fund had collected more than $26 million, and had awarded $15.8 million to 43 partnerships in 15 Washington counties to serve families and create service-enriched housing units.

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