Across the United States, communities are responding to the call to abolish chronic homelessness. Not since it first appeared on the American landscape in the mid-1980s has there been such an outcry to address this national disgrace. In a land of plenty, there are thousands of people living on the streets of our cities every night without housing and without economic means. Under the President's directive, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) and its member agencies in the federal government stirred mayors and governors to make and implement 10-year plans to end chronic homelessness. Federal agencies targeted innovative efforts to learn how best to use resources by moving people directly from the streets and shelters into permanent housing. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) have gone a step further to test strategies not only to offer chronically homeless people housing first, but to also offer the opportunity and support to work. Five workforce investment boards, grantees of the DOL Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) in conjunction with the Employment and Training Administration (ETA) and supported by the Veterans' Employment and Training Service (VETS), in coordination with local housing grantees of HUD, constitute the demonstration sites for this work. They have taken leadership in their cities to uniquely combine housing, supportive services, employment, and training so that chronically homeless individuals can have homes and jobs.
On January 25, 2006 a unique gathering of government officials and practitioners met to discuss their experiences in joining employment services with housing and other supportive services for people who are chronically homeless. Representatives from DOL, HUD, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) attended, along with leaders of local programs providing employment and housing to chronically homeless people and national experts in the field. The meeting's purpose was to start a national dialogue about policy and practice challenges that inhibit access to employment and training services by homeless job seekers. We approached this conversation with the common ground that all Americans, even those who are chronically homeless, have a right to participate in the labor market and benefit from public mainstream workforce programs. The resulting dialogue, its key themes, and suggested next steps are captured in this report. It is the hope of the Chronic Homelessness Employment Technical Assistance (CHETA) staff and our DOL and HUD partners that this dialogue and report can set the stage for continuing development of employment's critical role in meeting the needs of persons who are chronically homeless.