Advancing Employment, Equity, and an End to Homelessness: The Pathways Forward Challenge

September 16, 2019

Housing and income are inextricably linked.

Numerous stu d ies find that increased income is a strong predictor of a person exiting homelessness. Res ear ch tells us that individuals experiencing homelessness consistently rank paid employment alongside health care and housing as a primary need. Despite the fact that people experiencing homelessness want to, need to, and can work, available data show that far too few people experiencing homelessness are being connected to employment opportunities and income supports.

Homelessness persists, in part, because public systems fail to connect all homeless jobseekers to equitable pathways to employment and the income necessary for long-term housing stability.

That’s why, in 2016, Heartland Alliance selected five communities to participate in the Connections Project —a three-year, place-based project focused on increasing employment and income for people experiencing homelessness through systems collaboration. The work of these innovative communities illuminated many challenges, lessons learned, and promising practices that have contributed to a growing body of knowledge around optimizing systems to better connect homeless jobseekers to quality employment. We also realized that there was much more we needed to learn about how to move the needle on employment for homeless jobseekers.

You can learn more about the Connections Project communities and find toolkits and publications informed by their learnings here .

This year, we were able to build upon what we learned through the Connections Project in order to launch our second place-based project, the Pathways Forward Challenge (PWFC). The Pathways Forward Challenge asks communities to create more effective and equitable pathways to employment for people experiencing homelessness through bold systems change and collaboration.

After a rigorous review process, the following seven communities were selected to participate in the Pathways Forward Challenge:

  • Allegheny County, PA
  • Baltimore, MD
  • Boston, MA
  • Chicago, IL
  • Houston, TX
  • Santa Clara, CA
  • Tarrant County, TX

At the end of June, Heartland Alliance hosted representatives from the seven PWFC communities and partners from the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, National Alliance to End Homelessness, and others for our launch event in Chicago. During the three-day event, stakeholders built connections with each other, learned from each other’s efforts and plans, began exploring how to apply a race equity lens to their systems change efforts, and built out action plans to advance their ideas. The Heartland Alliance team will continue to support these communities through intensive technical assistance, ongoing peer learning opportunities, and financial resources throughout the two-and-a-half-year project period.

The Pathways Forward Challenge builds upon the place-based work of our Connections Project and focuses on the following key elements:

Supports Systems Change

The Pathways Forward Challenge supports strategies that go beyond the program level to address the underlying conditions—or root causes—of unemployment and homelessness.

Focuses on People Not Prioritized for Housing

Pathways Forward Challenge communities aim to increase employment for the significant number of people experiencing homelessness who are not likely to access housing assistance through the homelessness service system due to long wait lists or lack of housing stock—addressing a critical systems gap.

Supports Communities in Applying a Racial Equity Lens to Systems Change Initiatives

In order to address structural racism embedded within public systems, Pathways Forward communities are committed to applying a racial equity lens to their systems change ideas, goals, and outcome measures.

Challenges Communities to Set Bold Goals

Shifting systems and increasing employment and income for people experiencing homelessness is an ambitious task. We selected communities willing to set bold goals relative to the outcomes they seek.

Measures and Celebrates Data-Informed Progress

Pathways Forward communities will participate in an evaluation focused on evaluating the role and impact of systems change in supporting pathways to employment and income for jobseekers experiencing homelessness.

More information about these key elements can be found on the Pathways Forward Challenge project website .

We are eager to work with communities on their pathways forward toward employment and equity for all jobseekers experiencing homelessness. Sign up for our e-news and follow us on social media for regular updates on progress being made, lessons learned, new resources and tools, and opportunities for your community to connect with our growing network of communities across the country advancing employment as a key element of ending homelessness.

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