Alliance Board Chairmen Reflect on Alliance’s Beginnings

written by naehblog
July 8, 2013

Today's blog post was written by Gary Parsons, CEO of NextNav, and Mike Lowry, former governor of Washington State, Co-Chairs of the Alliance Board of Directors.

Sitting in last week's Board meeting of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, Mike and I were both struck by the magnitude of the milestone the organization was experiencing. We were reminded by our Founder and Co-Chairman Susan Baker that it had been thirty years ago to the day when a band of five visionary women and men met together to discuss the emerging problem of homelessness in our country.

These five brave souls represented both sides of the political landscape as well as a broad spectrum of the faith community, but they shared a common bond of concern for their fellow man and an uncommon unwillingness to simply watch and lament as a deepening problem went unattended. From those initial meetings thirty years ago, the work of the Alliance to End Homelessness was born.

These six founders of the Alliance included our current Co-Chairman Susan, our Secretary and Board Member Betty Boyle, as well as Susan Cullen, Eileen Evans, and Rabbi Martin Siegel. From the earliest stages of the Alliance, its mission has been dominated by a commitment to bi-partisanship and by a respect for the complementary strengths of the public and private sectors, as well as nonprofits, whether they be motivated by their faith or simply by their heart. Compassion was and is our foundation, but a compassion that is focused on positive, efficacious outcomes, and is informed by both the heart and the head. 

Throughout our 30 years, the spirit of the Alliance has reflected not only the commitment and compassion of those six founding members, but to a great extent it has reflected the humble grace and strength of our leader, Susan Baker. While Susan will always credit the efforts of others, including an undeniably exceptional president, chief operating officer and staff, Susan's contribution and leadership over these thirty years cannot be overestimated. It is her guidance and grace that are emblematic of our mission.

The magnitude of the 30 year milestone hit Mike and myself most powerfully because this was also the point in time which Susan had chosen to pass the torch of leadership. We are eternally grateful that Susan will remain involved as an active member of the board and the executive committee, but we also felt the weight of responsibility in stepping into shoes that felt much too large for comfort. As co-chairmen for the coming year, we will be ably assisted by the other officers of the board, including Vice Chair Tim Marx, Treasurer Bob Villency, and Secretary Elizabeth Boyle. And, of course, when we really need advice and counsel, Susan will always be there as our ex-officio leader.

So who are Mike and I, and why are we here? Both of us followed very different career paths but were attracted to both the mission and the spirit of the Alliance's work. I had spent many years starting and building businesses, but it was the inspiration of my wife, Kathy, that pulled me to the cause of homelessness. Like many in the non-profit sector, Kathy never sought credit or limelight, but worked tirelessly on a voluntary basis at homeless shelters and soup kitchens. She taught me that while contributing to jobs and our economy had value, contributing to the broader needs of society is essential as well.

Mike came to the cause of homelessness through a lifetime of service in the public sector.  While serving as a member of Congress, Mike received a letter from homeless advocate Mitch Snyder requesting a meeting. Mike immediately obliged and was shocked to find that Mitch had also sent the letter to all 435 Members of Congress and 100 senators, and that Mike had been the only one to positively respond.

In the early 1980s Mike and his staff began drafting legislation that eventually passed and became known as the McKinney Act (later the McKinney-Vento Act), named after Connecticut Congressman Stewart B. McKinney who died of AIDS a few months before it was signed into law by President Reagan. Although many improvements have been made to that initial legislation, the McKinney-Vento Act remains the seminal piece of federal legislation focused on the needs of people who are homeless.

Although now retired from public service, Mike knows the importance of credible information and research on the extent and composition of homelessness when it comes to legislating policy throughout all levels of government. The Alliance provides that critical information, as well as best practices on approaches to end homelessness, and that was Mike's primary motivation for joining the Alliance Board many years ago, and for now agreeing to continue to serve as its co-chairman.

It is probably appropriate and fitting that Mike and I separately represent the public and private sectors, respectively, as well as opposite sides of the political aisle. It is the symbiotic effort across these political, economic and faith spectrums that has characterized the Alliance since its founding, and we both look forward to continuing in that tradition.