Six Questions for MPA ’09 Alum Melanie Lewis Dickerson, Director at Community SolutionsEllen Patterson | School of Public Affairs Jan 31, 2024
As a Director at Community Solutions, Melanie works directly with communities and partners to build and improve systems to end homelessness using data, quality improvement and problem-solving tools from multiple sectors. She is a leader on the Built for Zero team, where she oversees a portfolio of large-scale change partnerships and social impact investments in the United States and abroad. Prior to joining Community Solutions in 2014, Melanie spent six years with the City and County of Denver where she served as the Partnerships Manager for Denver’s Road Home, focusing on policy development, regional collaboration and strategic partnerships.
As long as I can remember, I’ve felt a connection to the idea of community and a responsibility to contribute. From the youngest age, my parents encouraged volunteerism and being involved in something larger than myself. This drew me to a career in public service where I could connect my interest in policy, strategy and social impact with a direct opportunity to serve others and help build a better future for all of us.
I was drawn to my specific area of work by the belief that we don’t have to accept things the way they are or that big, wicked social issues are intractable. I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to work at organizations that dare to aim for big outcomes and where I can learn, fail and grow. Having a safe place to call home is fundamental to our well-being and the ability for individuals and families to thrive. I hope that I have made an impact by helping transform systems to achieve better outcomes and healthier communities.
I was fortunate to make several lifelong friends at the School of Public Affairs. As someone who was new to Denver, it was so meaningful to connect with a group of women with similar ambition and in a similar stage of life. SPA is set up to foster these types of relationships that help grow us personally and professionally.
Compared to many other countries, we have a very small public safety net with funding mechanisms that have led to a mindset of scarcity and organizations working in silos on issues that require a community-wide approach. We also have a culture that views issues like homelessness as an individual failing rather than a systemic and structural issue. We have to shift our mindset by changing the narrative on what’s possible, aiming toward real outcomes and matching the complexity of the issue with collaborative problem-solving methods.