Why the Pathways Forward Challenge?


Our work engaging communities across the country and partnering with federal agencies, policymakers, and other national partners has reinforced and illuminated a number of realities that have shaped the Pathways Forward Challenge.


Place-based Efforts Are Powerful Drivers of Local and National Change.

Communities are most often at the front lines of addressing homelessness and serving people experiencing homelessness and housing instability. At the same time, communities are centers of innovation to address challenges to complex economic and social problems, test solutions and assumptions, and generate lessons to inform future innovation and replication. We have seen how communities can and do drive local, state, and national policy by demonstrating what works, documenting challenges, and informing the policy making process and changes needed at all levels. If we are going to embed employment as a key solution to ending homelessness we must continue to advance community level responses.



Meaningful Impact Requires Systems Change.

While it is important that policies and programs are designed in ways that support employment and income for people experiencing homelessness, we also know that policies, programs, and organizations do not operate independently but are part of multiple systems. Our work in communities has reinforced that focusing on systems encourages stakeholders to 1) see how individual elements within the system work together (or fail to work together) and 2) evaluate which levers and strategies might result in meaningful impacts for people experiencing homelessness. Furthermore, because homeless jobseekers are typically engaged in and affected by any number of interacting and interdependent systems—including the homeless service, workforce, criminal justice, child welfare, and other systems—positive systems change relies on successful collaboration within and across systems.



We Need to Close a Critical Systems Gap.

Feedback from the field and research affirms that, only a small portion of the people experiencing homelessness in a community will receive housing through the homeless service system. In particular, many people experiencing homelessness have been assessed for housing resources, but are not likely to receive a housing option because of local assessment criteria and/or long waitlists. It stands to reason that leveraging employment and earned income is a critical element in exiting homelessness for people in this group. As a result, stakeholders in several communities have begun considering how systems changes that increase employment and income might uniquely impact people who are not prioritized for housing.



Public Systems Must Redress Racial Inequities.

Homelessness is disproportionately experienced by people of color. According to national data people who identify as black or African American were present in the sheltered homeless population at roughly 3.4 times the rate as in the total U.S. population (43% vs. 12.7%). A recent study of six U.S. cities revealed that the percentage of Black Americans experiencing homelessness was 65 percent. In these communities, homelessness among American Indian/Alaskan Natives was three to eight times higher than their proportion of the general population. Structural racism embedded in policies, practices, and public systems has ensured that historically oppressed and marginalized people—particularly Black and Native Americans--have been and continue to be excluded from equal access to the economic and community supports needed for housing stability. The dramatic overrepresentation of people of color among people experiencing homelessness demand that public systems serving homeless jobseekers must ensure that systems strategies address the specific employment needs of and barriers faced by people of color.



Data and Information are Fundamental to Success.

Communities applying to participate in the Pathways Forward Challenge will first gather information about the target population in their communities that will inform and drive their proposed systems change ideas and goals. As their ideas are implemented, selected Pathways Forward teams will track and share progress toward their goals through public data dashboards, hosted and managed by NCEH. This will allow other communities and stakeholders to follow, encourage, and celebrate alongside Pathways Forward communities as they work toward their goals. In alignment with their commitment to racial equity, selected communities will also collect disaggregated data on race and ethnicity in order to assess the extent to which gains in employment and income are being experienced equitably. Pathways Forward communities will also participate in an external evaluation focused on evaluating the role and impact of systems change in supporting pathways to employment and income for homeless jobseekers. The external evaluation is intended to support ongoing learning in order to inform and improve future systems change efforts.