Our Story

Our commitment to ending homelessness has guided us from day one

“The Melville Charitable Trust began its work on homelessness with two simple thoughts: The first was that the persistence of homelessness in the wealthiest democracy in the world was, quite simply, scandalous. The second was that it was a solvable problem.”

-Stephen Melville, Chair

Our work is guided by the vision of the founders of the Trust who wholeheartedly believed we could end homelessness by making strategic investments in visionary organizations willing to take risks, embracing proven best practices, and fostering deep collaboration between sectors.

We currently provide $6-7 million of grant funding each year to nonprofit organizations that share our goal. Since our founding in 1990, we have invested over $140 million to end homelessness in Connecticut and change policy on a national level.

The Melville Family

We owe our creation to the generosity of the estate of the late Dorothy Bigelow Melville (1894-1989), the widow of Ward Melville, who headed the Melville Corporation (a successful retail company that included Thom McAn shoes, Marshalls department stores, and the CVS pharmacy chain). Dorothy and Ward were active philanthropists in their community of Stony Brook, on Long Island, New York.

Board members John Gibb and Frank Melville.

Original Board Treasurer John Gibb and Board Chair, Frank Melville

Mrs. Melville did not specify any requirements for how the Trust’s funds should be allocated. She left the direction up to their son, Frank, who organized and chaired the Board of the Melville Trust for nearly 15 years, until his death in 2007.

At the Trust’s first board meeting in 1990, there was unanimous agreement to focus the Trust’s funds on addressing the homelessness crisis. As Frank explained, “Philanthropy can experiment and test, working in partnership with government to find the best solutions, but the plight of the homeless is a societal responsibility which the society as a whole must be asked to meet.”

The Trust continues to benefit from the wisdom and generosity of the Melville family, with Stephen and Ruth Melville leading our board of directors.
Meet the members of our board

A Brief History of the Melville Charitable Trust


The Trust is born!


The Trust launches the Partnership for Strong Communities, a statewide policy and advocacy organization which helps to build and nurture partnerships between nonprofits, government agencies, and others to more effectively address housing, homelessness, and community development in Connecticut.


The Trust purchases and renovates the Lyceum in Hartford, CT turning this historic building into a home for nonprofits, meeting space for the community, and a dedicated venue for policy makers and advocates concerned with safe, affordable housing in Connecticut. This begins our deep investment in the Frog Hollow neighborhood. Learn more about the Lyceum and our work in Frog Hollow


The Trust helps launch Funders Together to End Homelessness, a national movement of foundations and corporations supporting strategic and effective grantmaking to end homelessness.
Learn more about the genesis of Funders Together


The Trust purchases and begins restoration of the Billing Forge Complex and neighboring buildings in Hartford, CT, providing over 100 affordable apartments. With a goal of spurring economic development and providing jobs for residents of Frog Hollow, two years later Firebox, a farm-to-table restaurant, and Billings Forge Community Works are founded.


President Obama signs the The Frank Melville Supportive Housing Act into law, a bill conceptualized and promoted by our grantee partners. This groundbreaking legislation revitalized and reformed the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Section 811 Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities Program. Section 811 is a critical HUD program that assists the people with very low incomes and with the most significant and long-term disabilities to live independently in the community by providing affordable housing linked with voluntary services and supports.


Janice Elliott, a leader in housing field, becomes the Executive Director of the Trust after the passing of Robert Hohler, the Trust’s long-term director, in 2011.


The Trust embarks on a new grantmaking strategy: “To be intentional about moving providers, government, philanthropy, and communities away from emergency, palliative responses that perpetuate the problem toward proven, scalable, and cost-effective solutions that will end homelessness among adults, youth, and families. We remain steadfast in our commitment to housing as the primary building block for ending homelessness.”


The Trust adds two new Program Officers, doubling its program staff and expanding the Trust’s capacity.

2015 and 2016

Working in partnership with other funders, the Trust spearheads the creation of three new initiatives to combat homelessness:

  • A Way Home America: A new movement to prevent and end homeless in for all youth and young adults in the U.S. by 2020.
    Learn more
  • Secure Jobs Connecticut: A pilot to increase the income of families transitioning out of homelessness by connecting them to the resources they need to get and keep good jobs.
    Learn more
  • Funders for Housing and Opportunity: A philanthropic collaborative committed to bettering life outcomes for the millions of Americans that lack stable housing by addressing housing affordability.
    Learn more

2016 and 2017

Communities around the country launch 100-Day Challenges to prevent and end youth homelessness, led by youth expertise, with deep collaboration by cross-sector teams and a focus on innovation and experimentation. The 100-Day Challenges are funded by the Melville Trust, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and a collaborative of private funders across the country. Led by the Rapid Results Institute, in partnership with A Way Home America, the 100-Day Challenges connect thousands of youth and young adults to stable housing and grow the movement to end youth homelessness.


After a remarkable 7-year tenure, which saw the Trust grow its grantmaking impact and launch innovative new programs like A Way Home America, Funders for Housing and Opportunity and Secure Jobs Connecticut, Janice Elliott announces her retirement and the Trust begins searching for its next leader.


Susan Thomas is selected to be the foundation’s next President—its third leader in 30 years—after serving as the Trust’s Program Director. In that role she led the foundation’s housing and racial equity efforts and managed a state and national portfolio of grants supporting solutions to homelessness. Susan was chosen for her visionary leadership, longstanding commitment to advancing racial equity, and deep experience fostering successful collaboration between sectors and agencies.