At the first session of the National Alliance to End Homelessness' conference, I had one of my assumptions about the chronically homeless completely turned around. By definition, at least by the operative federal definition, the chronically homeless are people with severe disabilities of some kind--mental health or substance abuse problems or both, often. My assumption was that these people need housing and support services, but that it would be very unlikely that they could hold a job.
We heard about two cities, Indianapolis and Los Angeles, that are putting the chronically homeless to work. They're finding that employment actually helps people with mental illness or substance abuse problems to find their way back: like the rest of us, they find satisfaction in productive work. Not necessarily 40 hours a week. At their own pace they are offered the chance to work as a way to put some structure to their days, to afford them a sense of self-worth.
Grant money for these two programs plus similar ones in Portland, Boston, and San Francisco comes from the Department of Labor.
In Los Angeles, these workers are paid a living wage (currently around $10.80/hr.).