This summer, Heartland Alliance announced the Pathways Forward Challenge - a call to communities across the country to engage in creating more effective and equitable pathways to employment for people experiencing homelessness. In this blog post, Melissa Young and Carrie Felton of Heartland Alliance, discuss the goals of the challenge and how philanthropy plays a critical role in the success of these goals.
Written by Carrie Felton and Melissa Young
Housing and income are inextricably linked.
Numerous studies find that increased income is a strong predictor of a person exiting homelessness. Research tells us that individuals experiencing homelessness consistently rank paid employment alongside healthcare and housing as a primary need. When parents of families experiencing homelessness are asked to name one thing that would most help get their family back on its feet, the most common answer is employment. Many individuals experiencing homelessness have a high school degree or equivalent or a job training certificate, license and/or some college experience. Furthermore, many people experiencing homelessness are working already, but are not earning enough to keep a roof over their heads. 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 equitably support people in obtaining the employment and income necessary for long term housing stability.
Earlier this year, with the generous support of the Melville Charitable Trust and the Oak Foundation, Heartland Alliance launched the Pathways Forward Challenge - a call to communities across the nation to create more effective and equitable pathways to employment for people experiencing homelessness through bold systems change and collaboration.
The Pathways Forward Challenge built upon the place-based work of our Connections Project and focused on the following key elements:
- Supporting Systems Change in order to optimize public systems in communities. Systems change strategies address the underlying conditions—or root causes—of unemployment and homelessness.
- Focuses on People Not Prioritized for Housing. Communities selected to participate in the Pathways Forward Challenge developed systems change strategies that increase employment and income for the significant number of people experiencing homelessness who are not likely to receive housing through the homeless service system due to long wait lists, lack of housing stock, or low vulnerability scores. Improving systems connections to employment for this population is critical to increasing the efficiency and success of the homeless service system over time and improving outcomes for all people experiencing homelessness, especially people of color.
- Challenges Communities to Set Bold Shifting systems and increasing employment and income for people experiencing homelessness is an ambitious task. We sought communities that were willing to set bold goals relative to the outcomes they seek.
- Supports Communities in Applying a Racial Equity Lens to Systems Change Initiatives. Because the impact of structural racism is pervasive, public systems that do not explicitly commit to racial equity, will de facto produce inequitable outcomes. In order to increase employment and income among all homeless jobseekers, therefore, selected Pathways Forward communities are committed to applying a racial equity lens to the development of their systems change ideas, setting of goals, and measurement of outcomes.
- 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 homeless jobseekers.
We were extremely impressed by the overall strength of the proposals we received – a testament to the maturity of the field and the growing awareness and action around employment as a key element in ending homelessness. After a rigorous review process and some very difficult decisions we selected seven communities to advance our Pathways Forward Challenge. They are:
- Allegheny County, PA
- Baltimore, MD
- Boston, MA
- Chicago, IL
- Houston, TX
- Santa Clara, CA
- Tarrant County, TX
In June representatives from these communities and partners from the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, National Alliance to End Homelessness, and others came together for our launch event in Chicago. The event focused on centering and supporting communities in applying a race equity lens to their systems change efforts, peer-learning across teams, and building out action plans to advance communities’ system change ideas. The Heartland Alliance team will continue to support these communities through intensive technical assistance, ongoing peer learning opportunities, and financial resources.
Philanthropy has been a critical partner in several of these communities. In Baltimore and Chicago, for example, local philanthropy has supported efforts to center race equity in systems change transformation, piloted efforts to strengthen housing and employment programs, and convened stakeholder and funder roundtables to grow the number of champions advocating for better, more equitable pathways to employment for homeless jobseekers.
We are eager to work with communities on their pathways forward toward employment and equity for all homeless jobseekers. 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.