Earlier this year, Heartland Alliance’s National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity put out a call to communities across the nation for ideas on how to increase employment and income for people experiencing homelessness through systems change. We were extremely impressed and encouraged by the overall strength of the proposals we received! And so, after a rigorous review process, amazing conversations, and some very difficult decisions, we are excited to announce the seven communities that have been selected to advance their systems ideas through the Pathways Forward Challenge!

 
 

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Allegheny County DHS proposed to utilize data-sharing agreements with its core public workforce ally, the local workforce development board Partner4Work, and the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry to more fully understand and effectively serve individuals experiencing homelessness that are engaging with the public workforce system. Disaggregated data will also allow Allegheny County DHS and Partner4Work to address workforce system racial equity. Moreover, Allegheny County DHS seeks to advance several other elements of their system transformation consistent with our recommendations in Heartland Alliance’s Strengthening Public Workforce & Homeless Service Systems Collaboration by facilitating cross-systems leadership on homelessness and workforce board bodies; conducting cross-systems training and education, and leading a cross-systems case review process that addresses the human and workforce service needs of people involved with multiple systems.

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An ambitious and multi-pronged systems change plan that advances previous Connections Project advances in new and exciting ways with a focus on racial equity throughout collaborative efforts. Their proposed activities mirror the recommendations outlined in the report that the community authored in 2018 with the support of Heartland Alliance. In particular, Baltimore will execute a data-sharing agreement and integrated referral systems between the City’s homeless service and workforce systems to ensure data-driven decision making during the emerging systems transformation efforts. In addition, Baltimore will introduce shelter policies and protocols conducive to work and implement mechanisms to integrate legal services and remove barriers to economic opportunity. The community will intentionally integrate cross-sector learning communities and embed a racial equity agenda that includes a focus on workforce development. Finally, the community will support policy reform efforts that combat the criminalization of poverty and eliminate criminal records as a barrier to employment and housing.

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The City of Boston has proposed to take a leadership role in incorporating the workforce development system in their coordinated community response to addressing youth homelessness. These efforts will complement and expand on Boston’s Youth Housing Demonstration Project efforts. Their project will include leadership convenings across the region, deep engagement with youth experiencing homelessness, training for front line staff, and engagement with employers to identify approaches that support the hiring and retention of youth experiencing homelessness. The City of Boston will author a report as a result of their efforts that will include further recommendations for policy and practice.

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Chicago seeks to expand upon its Connections Project efforts by expanding relevant data and information through additional data-matching agreements and replicating a report developed through the Connections Project to look at the labor market patterns of youth experiencing homelessness. Chicago will seek to continue to align its coordinated entry system with appropriate connections to workforce services. Finally, Chicago will work to build its capacity to advance specific interventions that improve outcomes for African American jobseekers in the homeless response system.

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Houston has one of the only fully functioning and systemized coordinated entry systems that links to employment services for people experiencing homelessness. They seek to expand and strengthen their existing system by overlaying an explicit racial equity lens onto their Income Now efforts—meaning that the systems will refocus system data and track participant outcomes and access to employment and training opportunities based on race, ethnicity, and gender to better understand system equity. Moreover, Houston would like to replicate efforts in Baltimore to match HMIS data systems with criminal justice data systems in order to understand the reach of the criminal justice system and expand expungement practices and legal supports for clients. Additionally, Income Now will test creative solutions to assist self-resolution through employment of justice involved, high barrier single adults who do not fit federal definitions of priority for housing intervention.

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Santa Clara County seeks to expand pathways to good jobs for individuals experiencing homelessness in their community by implementing systems changes (practices, procedures, protocols) that open access to the IT industry, to County jobs, and to an innovative co-op model focused on property management of new permanent supportive housing units. In addition, Santa Clara will leverage its strong employer partners to modify hiring and management practices of employers in order to improve access, supports, and retention in jobs. Finally, Santa Clara is a SPARC community and will be leveraging their ongoing work with C4 to ensure that they are promoting equitable employment opportunities for this population and challenging implicit bias in job placement practices. Santa Clara County’s attention to employer practices and behavior has the potential to impact large swaths of low-wage workers by opening up pathways to good jobs in the region.

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Tarrant County Homeless Coalition, with their partners, seek to transform the way their community addresses homelessness through improved income and employment supports. The program is modeled after communities with proven practices such as Houston, Seattle and Baltimore and seeks to enhance technology to support more efficient matching, referrals and follow-up. Unique to other models, however, Tarrant County seeks to design and implement the model with the focus on prioritizing populations of color and designing the model with a focus on racial equity from the start. Additionally, Tarrant County will engage the business community in efforts to engage, educate, train, and modify employer practices to better serve individuals experiencing homelessness and will train front line staff and leaders to embrace income and employment as key elements of the solution to homelessness.