To Address Homelessness, Start With Jobs

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This is a guest blog by Melissa Young, director of Heartland Alliance’s National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity.

Housing and income are inextricably linked. Research and conversations with people with lived experience of homelessness tells us that people experiencing homelessness can, do, and want to work. Homelessness persists, in part, because public systems fail to support all people in equitably obtaining the employment and income necessary for long term housing stability.

Ending homelessness then requires that we double-down in cities across the country to address the employment and income needs of individuals and families experiencing homelessness and housing instability.

With this in mind, Heartland Alliance’s new Pathways Forward Challenge seeks to do just that.

Baltimore is one city-level example of our work. The City of Baltimore—lead by the Mayor’s office—was selected as one of our Connections Project communities in 2015 and has pioneered efforts to reduce barriers to employment and housing for Baltimoreans.

Baltimore’s Connections Project, Journey to Jobs, has worked to reduce the incidence and impact of interaction with the justice system in order to improve access to stable housing and economic opportunity. To this end, Journey to Jobs collected cross-system data that demonstrate how interaction with the justice system and patterns of structural racism perpetuate cycles of poverty and inequity: in Baltimore, 43 percent of homeless individuals have at least one expungable record and, among these clients, 83 percent are African American or black while only 12 percent are white.

With these data, Journey to Jobs has partnered with local legal services to increase access to criminal record expungement for homeless jobseekers. Moving forward, their work will inform policy and systems change aimed at reducing interactions with the criminal justice system and increasing access to housing and economic opportunity for people of color experiencing homelessness as well as their local workforce system redesign and coordinated entry system.

With generous funding from the Oak Foundation and Melville Charitable Trust, we will support five communities, selected through a competitive process, in advancing systems change ideas over a two and half year project period. Selected communities will receive financial resources, technical assistance, and connections to peer learning opportunities in order to implement their ideas. Our aim is to spur bold systems change in more communities that more effectively and equitably connect homeless jobseekers to employment.

The Pathways Forward Challenge builds on our previous place-based work, including the Connections Project. All told, Connections Project sites opened doors to employment and income for over 27,000 homeless jobseekers. Connections Project sites also contributed to a growing body of knowledgearound systems change solutions to increasing employment and income for homeless jobseekers. Sharing this knowledge helped to nurture a movement of local and national stakeholders across disciplines who recognize income and employment as fundamental to preventing and ending homelessness—including bringing philanthropy to the table in new ways to learn and address this issue. Heartland Alliance also leveraged the learning and knowledge gained through the Connections Project to advance public policy by shaping recommendations for federal agency change.

As we look to identify five new communities to advance systems change, we know that cities are a key place where this important work can take root and thrive. Cities are often at the front lines of addressing homelessness. Cities are also centers of innovation. Through our place-based work we have seen how cities can and do drive local, state, and national solutions to ending homelessness through employment by demonstrating what works and informing change-making processes at all levels.

To learn more about the Pathways Forward Challenge, please join National League of Cities, Heartland Alliance and a representative from the City of Baltimore at the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness Forum focused on employment. The event will take place at the Congressional City Conference from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m at the Marriot Wardman Park.

For more information and to apply see our Pathways Forward website.

About the author: Melissa Young is the Director of Heartland Alliance’s National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity. She steers the team’s policy and systems change efforts by advancing solutions to the systemic issues that drive chronic unemployment. myoung@heartlandalliance.org 
@ _Melissa_Young