Chicago, May 27, 2020—Imagine scanning the poverty ecosystem of a city—the working poor, the jobless, the homeless, the racial and gender disparities, and the jobs available, as well as all the philanthropic dollars already at work. The data could uncover unknown gaps, identify redundancies, and highlight opportunities. That’s the core of a new effort launched by the William G. McGowan Charitable Fund, which promises to inform and sharpen its longstanding grant-making program.
“As stewards of public money, it’s our responsibility to understand and track the ecosystems we work in,” noted Diana Spencer, executive director. “That understanding will help us to make the greatest, long-term impact on people’s lives. We’re so pleased to be able to take this step and further our effectiveness in partnership with organizations on the ground.”
Spearheading the effort is Luis Velez, who will serve as director of learning and impact. Velez holds a medical degree as well as a PhD in public health. He has worked as a program and research officer at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, conducted research at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, and consulted for the World Bank. He was an assistant professor at the Baylor College of Medicine for six years. But his first day at the Fund may be his most memorable: He started work on the first day of Illinois’ shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Velez’s first project focuses on Rochester, New York, with an eye to homelessness and poverty. His research and analysis will inform wraparound services and workforce development. The U.S. Census reports that Rochester, population 200,000, has a poverty rate of 32.6 percent. For school-age children, the rate is 52.2 percent. Understanding the relationships and complications behind these numbers will prove invaluable.
Throughout the next year or so, Velez will turn his survey of poverty and homelessness on McGowan’s remaining four regions. Also on the docket: education funding, the McGowan Fellows Program, and follow-up on an ongoing grant, ELM.