Rafael López knows about human crisis response and developing solutions to affect change—he’s been doing it his whole life. From helping build a winter shelter program for the homeless early in his career in his hometown of Watsonville, California, all the way to the White House and as the Commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
López has seen a history dense with complex issues, and achieved success solving them, which is why the Partnership for Strong Communities is honored to welcome López to deliver the keynote speech at the 13th Annual Reaching Home Housing Awards Dinner on Thursday, June 14th at Anthony’s Ocean View in New Haven.
In his formative years, López’s compassion led him to work with local leaders and construct a program in Watsonville as a response to the Governor’s decision to shut down underutilized armories. In a matter of months, López helped organize local nonprofits, churches, and volunteers to provide safe shelter, meals and access to health screenings for the homeless during the winter months. This experience shaped López’s efforts with the United Way of Santa Cruz County where he helped launch Santa Cruz County’s first ever homeless census, coordinating nighttime counts in an area of the county that was traditionally underserved and the homeless unreported.
“Homelessness is more often articulated as the ‘problem’ or ‘challenge of others’,” López shares. “We’re often lulled into complacent thinking that being homeless could never happen to one of us, or to someone we know; but it does. More often than one thinks—sometimes hidden in plain sight. “
These experiences shaped López at every stage of his career, with a special focus on homeless programs and services that support children, youth and families. A key to López’s success has been forming strong partnerships.
“No one person, organization, agency or business can end homelessness on its own,” says López. “We must strengthen our partnerships across sectors to generate solutions that change the lives of those we serve.”
Putting his beliefs into practice, as CEO of the Family League of Baltimore, López constructed the state of Maryland’s largest after school and summer supper program to ensure that children would not go hungry. He worked with local, state and federal officials and over 200 nonprofits to expand the program to community-based locations and recreation centers, which now serve more than 9,000 youth daily at over 225 sites.
With a keen eye on helping underserved populations become recognized in policies, programs and in practice, López rose to the position of Senior Policy Advisor at the White House Domestic Policy Council and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy where he worked on a broad range of human services policies ranging from the importance of focusing on the disproportionality of LGBTQ homeless youth and youth of color, youth aging out of foster care, to domestic violence and the impact on survivors, especially homeless women and children.
“One person at a time, one family at a time, one community at a time, one city, one county, one state…” said López. “When we see that change is possible, when we experience that change in ourselves, we begin to understand that change is possible and we can make a difference. “
At the Children’s Bureau and the Family and Youth Services Bureau at the U.S. Health & Human Services Department, López and his team worked closely to form partnerships across federal departments, especially the Housing and Urban Development Department, the Department of Education, the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, and national youth serving organizations to actualize the first federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness and launch the White House Policy Briefing on Youth Homelessness to end youth homelessness by 2020. López helped launch programs like the first ever 100-Day Challenge to end youth homelessness, and partnering with the cities of Austin, Cleveland and County of Los Angeles. This work has since become a framework that has expanded to additional metropolitan as well as rural areas and making a measurable difference in ending youth homelessness.
López is now a Managing Director for Accenture’s Health & Public Service practice in North America where he partners with decision makers in government, education and nonprofit organizations to solve tough challenges facing children, families and communities.
“Rafael has dedicated his career to improving the lives of children, youth, and families in leadership roles at the city, county and state levels,” said Alicia Woodsby, PSC Executive Director. “We are thrilled for him to share his unique insights, experiences, and passion for solving complex issues like homelessness.”
The Reaching Home Housing Awards Dinner will feature a social hour, spectacular ocean views, Youth Action Hub’s PhotoVoice exhibit, awards presentations, stories of impact, a keynote from López, and a LIVE musical performance by Javier Colon, winner of season one of NBC’s The Voice.
“Now, more than ever, we need courageous risk-takers and bold innovators at the local level to demonstrate that change is possible,” López says.
“I am honored to join the Partnership for Strong Communities 13th Annual Reaching Home celebration. The work to end homelessness, expand affordable housing and create strong communities is not only important to the State of Connecticut, but to our nation.”
For more on Rafael López please visit this link
For more information on the 13th Annual Reaching Home Housing Awards Dinner please visit this link
General donations and contributions to the Partnership are encouraged and welcome as well.