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

Housing and income are inextricably linked.

Numerous studies find that increased income is a strong predictor of a person exiting homelessness and 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. Over and over again, we find that those experiencing homelessness want to work and often are working already, but are not earning enough to keep a roof over their heads. So despite the fact that people experiencing homelessness want to, need to, and can work, far too few people experiencing homelessness are being connected to employment opportunities and income supports.

That is why, earlier this year, with the support of the Melville Charitable Trust and the Oak Foundation, Heartland Alliance introduced the Pathways Forward Challenge (PWFC) – 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. 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, and we hope the begin to change the system through our Pathways Forward Challenge.

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 the following seven communities to advance our Pathways Forward Challenge:


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 will support 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 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.

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

In order to increase employment and income among all homeless jobseekers, 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.

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 homeless jobseekers.

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

LAUNCHING Pathways Forward


At the end of June, Heartland Alliance hosted representatives from the seven PWFC communities, along with partners from the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, National Alliance to End Homelessness, and others, for a launch event in Chicago. During the three-day event, stakeholders built connections with each another, 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.

“We are excited to be part of this group and we are hoping that we can create some significant opportunities and increase services for people experiencing homelessness in Allegheny County. This gives us the opportunity to put some backbone into a lot of the work we have already started.”

-Markese Long, Neighborhood Innovation Manager, Allegheny County, PA

We 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.

“It’s been amazing to work with other communities and listen on what they have done, what they are doing, and some of their challenges…to be able to get their insight and having their input has been so valuable.”

-Jessica Orozco, County of Santa Clara, Office of Supportive Housing

The Heartland Alliance team looks forward to working with communities on their pathways forward toward employment and equity for all homeless jobseekers. ‘

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About National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity

Heartland Alliance’s National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity is dedicated to ending chronic unemployment and poverty. We believe that every person deserves the opportunity to succeed in work and support themselves and their families. Through our field building, we provide support and guidance that fosters more effective and sustainable employment efforts. Our policy and advocacy work advances solutions to the systemic issues that drive chronic unemployment.