In Massachusetts, there are more than 3,600 homeless families living in shelters or motels, according to the Department of Housing and Community Development. In response, the Boston College School of Social Work and United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley have announced the launch of the "IF Challenge," a prize competition seeking innovative, cost-effective, and feasible ideas to help end family homelessness in the state. The competition is open to nonprofit 501c3 organizations, and the winning idea(s) will be eligible to receive up to $25,000 in funds from United Way and design and development support from BCSSW.


Homelessness has particularly adverse effects on children and youth including hunger, poor physical and mental health, and missed educational opportunities, project administrators say. For example, 97 percent of homeless children move at least once on an annual basis, which leads to disruptions in school that can have a negative impact on academic achievement. Homeless children are twice as likely to have a learning disability, repeat a grade, or to be suspended from school.

“We believe every family deserves a safe and stable home,” says Michael K. Durkin, president of United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley. “But ending family homelessness has proved to be elusive despite many well-intentioned efforts and programs, in large part because of the complexity of the issue and the multiple challenges families face today.  Our goal is to help surface some of the innovative, research-backed and feasible ideas that could be scaled to create lasting change in Massachusetts.”

“Partnering with the United Way provides a chance to bring higher education and practice together to work toward alleviating homelessness,” says Stephanie Berzin, co-director of the Center for Social Innovation at BCSSW. “Family homelessness is an issue where we can make a difference.  The IF Challenge helps us identify and support innovative solutions so we can move forward on this issue.”

Ideas can also include technology-based solutions (e.g. mobile solutions, apps, social media). Prize money from United Way may be used to start or expand the winning applicants’ projects. The Boston College School of Social work will offer technology build-out and support, assistance with project evaluation, and three sessions with BCSSW’s Center for Social Innovation to support winning applicants’ development and implementation of their proposals. For more information, visit the IF Challenge website.

About IF
Innovating with Families, or IF, is a partnership between the United Way and the Boston College School of Social Work designed to shape new relationships between social scientists and practitioners, towards finding innovative solutions to Greater Boston’s most pressing social problems.