This Social Activist is Fighting Homelessness Through Innovative Strategic Planning

Meet Tanya Tull, Founder, and CEO at Partnering for Change, a non-profit organization that promotes and facilitates strategies to ensure adequate housing for all families with children. 

As a social entrepreneur and an activist, Tanya Tull has dedicated 35 years of her life to alleviating the lives of the needy and vulnerable and is still going strong. She is a nationally recognized expert in housing and ending homelessness. She started Para Los Ninos (For the Children) as a response to an article published in L.A. Times. Next, she co-founded L. A. Housing Society, then A Community of Friends, Beyond Shelter, and then finally Partnering for Change in 2011, her current organization. 

Tanya grew up in a working-class family in Southern California. Her non-traditional household with people from diverse ethnicities and backgrounds became a part of her experience. She attended Scripps College for Women on a scholarship and was hired as a social worker with job training at LA county. Tanya considers it the lowest point in her ever life as a single mother with an infant to take care of. It was an experience she feels she cannot forget. She worked on the job for 2 years with a focus on single black mothers and later on former patients of the California state mental hospitals in the Skid Row area.

Tanya was frustrated and felt closely about the suffering of the needy and vulnerable even in the countries as far as Africa. One morning in 1980, she read about the children of undocumented workers living in the substandard hotels in Skid Row. This changed her life dramatically and within a week, she went on to start Para Los Ninos. A year later, she opened a 5000 square foot renovated warehouse for children of ages six weeks to five years old. They provided a wide range of services to the families and their children, including the childcare center, a youth center, mental health services, and family planning. Thus started her career in the non-profit sector. The LA Family Housing deployed the emergency shelters and permanent housing for the needy. A Community of Friends in 1988 also developed supportive housing for the chronically homeless population, and the Beyond Shelter devised the “housing first” approach and promoted a new model across the country for the next 25 years to end family homelessness. 

When asked about the challenges she faced in the initial years, she says, “My early experiences included having to deal with older professional men of a certain age who did not like women who ‘know more about a subject than they did,’ researchers who often think they know it all, and (shocking to me, but I learned to ignore it), organizations and people with their own personal agendas (political, career, financial, or simply arrogance)”. But she realized that she cannot give up as women and children continued to suffer. Even in her seventeenth year, she is striving to end homelessness and find stable housing for the children and their families. She works to incite changes in the real lives of real people. Tanya applied her artistic creativity to solve challenging social problems. As a single mother with no money to even pay the rent at one point in her life, Tanya relates with the emotions of these families. 

Leaving an inspiring message for the readers from her own experience, Tanya says, “I learned to stay focused on the goal: being the voice for those who cannot speak for themselves. A single individual with a vision can lead others along the way and promote systemic change on a national and international scale! I had NO training in what I did over four decades – but I have edited Presidential Proclamations and advised Cabinet members in US Presidential administrations. Academic researchers continue to promote my work. But there is still more to be done, as sometimes good ideas are implemented poorly”.