Updates for funders: homelessness, housing, transportation, and the Network for Southern Economic Mobility

Some of the most challenging issues in Greenville County – issues that fall outside of the responsibility of any single organization – are seeing progress thanks to the concerted efforts of partners old and new. GPP members gathered for breakfast to hear a brief history of the work in each of these areas, goals, current status of any projects or initiatives, what’s next on the to-do list for partners, and what funders can expect in terms of requests for financial support or involvement.

Greenville Homeless Alliance

Tony McDade, Executive Director of United Ministries and Chairman of the Greenville Homeless Alliance, reported that the alliance is made up of a diverse group of fifty-plus stakeholders, including human service agencies, health care providers, government, law enforcement, educators, and more, and each organization uses different definitions for homelessness.  This could make collaboration challenging; but instead, the stakeholders have agreed upon the broad goal of “making homelessness brief and rare.” The alliance has become the “table” around which partnerships are emerging.

While various stakeholders may be focused on serving different target groups, collectively the alliance has chosen to focus collective energy toward, chronically homeless individuals – those who have lived for a year or more outside, in a park, or in a structure not meant for human habitation. Often, these individuals suffer from untreated addiction or mental illness, and GHA members believe there to be about 1,000 chronically homeless people in Greenville County on any given day.

Research into solutions from other communities clearly points to permanent supportive housing as a model that works.  Permanent supportive housing provides a safe place for a formerly chronically homeless person to live, and along with it provides services such as physical and mental health care, social work services, transportation, and other tools the residents need.  Outcomes show that it’s not just better for the person, who now has a safe place to live, but it provides a tremendous return on investment.

Reedy Place here in Greenville County is our local example. Research shows that the total costs for eleven homeless people who provided consent to release data that in the two years prior to their becoming Reedy Place residents were $210,447 (including stays in the detention center and inpatient behavioral health care, EMS transport, and emergency department visits). But once Reedy Place opened and these chronically homeless folks found permanent supportive housing, their total costs dropped to just $17,626, a staggering difference of $192,821. Data also shows that these eleven individuals are not the highest users of these services, thus the return on investment estimates are anticipated to increase. The committee is working to increase the number of Reedy Place residents as well as expand the number of homeless individuals who provide consent in order to strengthen the economic case for permanent supportive housing.

The Greenville Homeless Alliance is allowing stakeholders to consider the importance of tracking shared data.  As an example, service providers who accept federal funds are required to use HMIS, a complex data management system not used by faith-based providers such as Miracle Hill Ministries.  However, Miracle Hill is recognizing the benefits of contributing to the body of knowledge by contributing data to HMIS and is thinking through how to do so.  Hospitals are looking at the new ICD-10 codes which include medical codes for homelessness, housing, and transportation. Participating in a coalition allows these conversations to happen.

In the near term, funders will have the opportunity to support the position of a Homelessness Coordinator to spearhead the work of the Greenville Homelessness Alliance.  This has been led by a part-time consultant funded by the Graham Foundation and Hollingsworth Funds.  In the long term, funders can support the development of permanent supportive housing – a well-proven model – through both grant funding and through program-related investments.



Eleanor Dunlap, Chief Impact Officer with the Graham Foundation, presented on the developments in housing in the City and County of Greenville.  Funders are well aware of the dramatic changes underway in the City of Greenville as construction of condos near the central business district is constant and gentrification of lower income, historically minority income neighborhoods in the city means these residents are being pushed into the county.

czb, a housing and urban development consulting firm retained by the City of Greenville, completed a housing study in 2016 that revealed a shortage of 2,500 units for residents making $20,000 or less in annual income. To address this, City Council set aside $2 million, to be matched with $1 million from philanthropic organizations and other partners, to create a Housing Trust Fund. A working group was formed to make recommendations on how to structure the trust fund and use the money to address the issue.

The 12-person working group includes representatives from for-profit and nonprofit developers, city council, residents, philanthropy, and others, and their charge is to establish the purpose and role of the Housing Trust Fund.  They determined that the Housing Trust Fund shouldn’t just work in the City of Greenville because for residents looking for housing, those political boundaries are invisible. Instead, the Trust Fund should work in areas that are convenient to residents’ jobs, education, services, and more, and should work in concert with the County of Greenville, which has established its own housing committee of County Councilmembers.

Eleanor reported that the working group established three roles for the Housing Trust Fund:

1)      To serve as a thought leader on housing issues in the area.  The Housing Trust Fund should steer conversations and provide information on best practices in distribution of housing types, policies to guide housing, and more.

2)      To act as an equity investor and lender.  If the funds from the City and philanthropy were used as grants, it would be depleted almost instantly and have little impact on the significant housing challenges in our area. Instead, the trust fund should be sustainable and provide short term loans or financing alongside other traditional lenders.

3)      To act as a land bank. The trust fund can acquire land that could be desirable before a purpose is identified to preserve it before its price goes up, it can lease land, and sell land to generate revenue for the trust for other purposes.

The working group determined that CommunityWorks Carolina could be the home for launching the trust fund.  The logistics of this are yet to be determined; but because CommunityWorks was first established for this purpose and as a community development financial institution has the appropriate infrastructure to play this role, it makes sense to use existing resources and assets to support initial activities of the trust fund.



Katy Smith, in her role as Executive Director of the Piedmont Health Foundation, gave an update on the foundation’s work to improve mobility in Greenville County.

Piedmont Health Foundation first began focusing on transportation in 2014 because of concerns regarding access to health care, jobs, education, and grocery stores for residents without cars or for those who could not drive.  But research conducted by the foundation in 2015 quickly led to an expanded understanding of the issues around mobility. This research found that residents have difficult traveling successfully in Greenville County because of:

  • Planning and infrastructure, including sprawled development patterns, lack of pedestrian infrastructure or ADA accessible bus stops, and coordination between jurisdictions on planning and development
  • Public transit, which in Greenville County runs on a system of antiquated routes and stops for which Greenlink, the transit system, lacked data on use and ridership, so it couldn’t knowledgeably make changes to improve the system to better meet riders’ needs
  • Health and human services transportation, which is provided by nonprofit and public agencies, some of which have fleets of vehicles with drivers and maintenance operations but most of which have a single van driven when needed by a custodian or employee with other duties. These various transportation services are uncoordinated and at times duplicative.
  • Funding from public and private sources, which is insufficient to provide transportation services to meet residents’ needs.

Today, the work of partners is focused on improving mobility through better public transit, coordinated health and human service transportation, and smarter land use.

Better public transit.  Greenlink has made great strides since the first study was completed in 2015. It has completed a Comprehensive Operational Analysis, which is a study that examines how the system is working and how it can be improved without assuming any additional revenues.  Soon, it will launch a Transit Development Plan to imagine how the system can grow to meet future needs of the community. In the coming year, Piedmont Health Foundation will be supporting Greenlink in developing its messages and building relationships with the business community and the general public through public relations efforts.

Coordinated health and human services transportation. Key transportation providers and the two health care systems along with United Way have identified a model system out of Rochester, NY called Medical Motor Service, which provides transportation and brokers service for thousands of riders and organizations in the community. To begin developing the model locally, Thrive Upstate, Senior Action, and Greenlink’s paratransit service have agreed to share their ridership with Furman’s GIS department to map in order to find where the potential for shared service exists.  Then, these providers along with others in the community can explore developing a shared business model with hopes of beginning operations in 2019.

Smarter land use.  Those involved in transportation work increasingly recognize the connection between land use and transportation. Higher density and development along arterial roads makes it more feasible for transit to efficiently serve residents. In addition, the availability of transit make housing more affordable. The individuals involved in planning for transportation and housing will be in conversation with Upstate Forever and others involved in land use discussions to consider how the three are intertwined.

Funders can support advocacy and PR for improved transportation through investments in the Piedmont Health Foundation. They can also invest directly in transit through Greenlink; as examples, Graham Foundation and Hollingsworth Funds supported the purchase of an Intelligent Transit System to allow riders to track the location of the bus on smartphones.  In 2018, the development of the health and human services system will need grant support.  Funders can also make their voices heard for smart land use and can invest funds in organizations like Upstate Forever who are doing this work.


Network for Southern Economic Mobility

Gage Weekes, Senior Vice President of Strategic Initiatives with Hollingsworth Funds, reported on Greenville’s participation in the Network for Southern Economic Mobility.  MDC, Inc. of Durham, NC assembled the Network for Southern Economic Mobility (NSEM) to address data that show communities in the South are the most difficult places for youth and young adults to achieve the American dream.  NSEM is a group of Southern communities – Athens, Ga, Chattanooga, TN, Greenville, SC, and Jacksonville, FL – committed to increasing upward economic mobility for youth and young adults in the lowest income brackets. The Network is designed to help communities deepen, accelerate, and align strategic investments for systemic change that position youth and young adults for economic success.

Gage shared the striking data behind NSEM. In Greenville County, a child has a 4.7% chance of moving from the bottom quintile of household income to the top, making Greenville County the 24th lowest community out of 2,400+ counties nationwide. It’s a striking contrast to Greenville being named one of the best metropolitan areas for business, even as our poverty rate has more than doubled since the year 2000.

Research shows that five place-based factors increase residents’ opportunities for economic mobility:

  1. Less residential segregation – living in neighborhoods that are racially, ethnically, and economically diverse. Maps of Greenville County with households color-coded by race and ethnicity quickly reveal that our neighborhoods break up into easily defined blocks of color.
  2. Larger middle class, rather than a growing division between the haves and have-nots, meaning more people have access to a livable wage job.
  3. More stable family structure, which is not an indictment against single parents or relatives providing kinship care, but instead a recognition that adults parenting alone often lack the financial means and supportive networks that are needed to get by, let alone get ahead.
  4. Greater social capital, including connections to family, friends, and faith communities who can pitch in, relationships to leverage for things like career development.
  5. Better education, leading to increased access to post-secondary and career success.

In order to move youth and young adults from the lowest quintiles to the highest, NSEM is developing key strategies that aim to change the conversation around economic mobility in an effort to transform outcomes at the systems level.

To learn more about Greenville’s Network for Southern Economic Mobility, visit www.gvlnsem.net


More Articles