#PathwaysForward: A National Convening Focused on Elevating & Advancing Employment to Prevent & End Homelessness
By Carrie Felton, Graduate Intern, National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity
The event, Preventing & Ending Homelessness Through Employment: Lessons Learned & Pathways Forward (#PathwaysForward), was sponsored by Heartland Alliance’s National Center on Employment & Homelessness (NCEH), the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), and Funders Together to End Homelessness (FTEH) with support from the Melville Charitable Trust and Oak Foundation.
The need to gather local and national leaders together to learn and strategize was driven, in part, by a desire to lift up and translate the work of five communities participating in NCEH’s Connections Project and identify pathways forward around expanding this work in more communities nationwide and through federal action and policy reform. The Connections Project is a place-based project aimed at increasing employment and economic opportunity for homeless jobseekers through systems-level innovations. Representatives from the Connection Projects sites—including local funders, program administrators, frontline workers, and people with lived experience—shared their challenges and lessons learned in an engaging panel discussion.
Many of the panelists explained that lack of coordination between homeless and workforce systems reflects and perpetuates a belief that people experiencing homelessness can’t work. Brian Paulson from Minneapolis reminded us that shifting this assumption requires policy and funding support, “How do we put our money where our mouth is?”
These communities also identified a gap in data and information about homeless jobseekers. While several contributing factors were discussed, Carrie Thomas from Chicago proposed that perhaps a key reason is that “we don’t ask what we don’t want to know.” In other words, data collection processes obscure deficits in employment services available to homeless jobseekers that we are not able to address.
Read more about specific strategies and successes of each of the Connection Project sites on our website.
Throughout the day, the eclectic mix of stakeholders delved into complex topics, raised challenging questions, and worked together to generate actionable recommendations to be advanced by federal agencies. For example, many collaborative ideas emerged related to improving data quality/access and creating dedicated funding streams for homeless jobseekers. Convening attendees were also challenged to think outside-the-box and envision a range of bold policy, research, and systems solutions for the future. These solutions reflected a need to challenge the status quo and commit to long-term solutions that improve economic opportunity people experiencing homelessness.
“This meeting is the who’s who of the who’s who. This was not possible a couple of years ago.”
Perhaps one of the most tangible elements of the event was the surge of energy and expansion of networks among attendees. This unique opportunity to connect with people from a range of perspectives and roles sparked ideas and action. In a feedback survey following the event, over half of respondents identified specific actions they plan to enact as a result of the convening. One respondent, inspired by Baltimore’s Connections Project work, committed to “work with legal aid community on racial equity and expungement.”
In the coming months, Heartland Alliance will publish reports from the convening highlighting emergent themes and recommendations for change across a range of stakeholder groups. Additionally, as USICH revises the Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness, the insights, ideas, and recommendations that emerged at the convening will be valuable contributions to this process. Follow us and our partners as we continue working to expand access to quality jobs and economic opportunity for people experiencing homelessness and unstable housing.
“This was SUCH a valuable convening that is resulting in positive change. Keep shining the light on employment—keep saying what needs to be said!!”