A national network of funders supporting strategic, innovative, and effective solutions to homelessness

Pathways Forward: Addressing Employment & Income in the Fight to End Homelessness

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.


We joined Funders Together because we believe in the power of philanthropy to play a major role in ending homelessness, and we know we have much to learn from funders across the country.

-Christine Marge, Director of Housing and Financial Stability at United Way of Greater Los Angeles

I am thankful for the local partnerships here in the Pacific Northwest that we’ve been able to create and nurture thanks to the work of Funders Together. Having so many of the right players at the table makes our conversations – and all of our efforts – all the richer and more effective.

-David Wertheimer, Deputy Director at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Very often a lack of jobs and money is not the cause of poverty, but the symptom. The cause may lie deeper in our failure to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities, in a lack of education and training, in a lack of medical care and housing, in a lack of decent communities in which to live and bring up their children.

-President Lyndon B. Johnson, 1964 State of the Union Address

Funders Together has given me a platform to engage the other funders in my community. Our local funding community has improved greatly to support housing first models and align of resources towards ending homelessness.

-Leslie Strnisha, Vice President at Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland

Our family foundation convenes local funders and key community stakeholders around strategies to end homelessness in Houston. Funders Together members have been invaluable mentors to us in this effort, traveling to our community to share their expertise and examples of best practices from around the nation.

-Nancy Frees Fountain, Managing Director at The Frees Foundation

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