How One Nonprofit Integrates the Homeless Back Into Society

“It’s the dignity, respect, and familial connections that are formed when someone is gainfully employed.” #globalgoals

This fall, the United Nations is preparing to launch its 17 Sustainable Development Goals—an extraordinary action plan to solve the world’s biggest problems by 2030. Over the coming months, we’ll be connecting with The Local Globalists: 17 nonprofit founders, entrepreneurs, and social innovators who are working every day, wherever they are, to turn one of the U.N.’s #globalgoals into reality.

Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all.

In 1984, John Dillon was 22 years old and a year out of college, volunteering with Catholic Charities in the Jesuit Volunteer Core. After a year of service on Skid Row in Los Angeles, he decided he wanted to start his own nonprofit to serve the homeless. In the beginning stages, he formed the nonprofit Chrysalis as a food and clothing distributor, but soon realized that he was giving out Band-Aids rather than solving long-term problems. He soon pivoted his focus to employment services for low-income, formerly incarcerated, and homeless populations, with the philosophy that with steady jobs, people could find long-term self-sufficiency. Named after the transitional state in which a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, the nonprofit serves as a protective cocoon that makes transformation possible.

Although Dillon eventually ended up moving back to the East Coast to become an investor in real estate, he kept his organization running with the guidance of CEO Mark Loranger. For 13 years, Loranger worked at IBM, then became an entrepreneur for 10 years. After selling his company, he felt that he wanted to make more of an impact in society, serving low-income populations. After eight years at Chrysalis, Loranger will have helped over 2,000 homeless people get employed this year alone. With an estimated 50,000 homeless people in Los Angeles and high rates of poverty, Chrysalis is making a small, hyperlocal impact, one that has not only connected clients to new opportunities, but also reconnected them to their families. Loranger’s priority with Chrysalis is to help clients with their résumés, interview skills, and job skills. Beneath all that work is the core value of treating each human being with dignity and respect.

“The challenge for most clients is that this program is completely voluntary, self-motivated, and self-directed, so it’s daunting. People have to walk in with the mindset that they’re ready to change and find work. Society may have turned its back on them a few times, so we are there to offer support and figure out what work they can and want to do. I really give these clients credit for coming back because it takes courage,” Loranger says.

The other challenge for Chrysalis is finding employers who are open to working with people who have criminal or transient backgrounds. Although Chrysalis doesn’t serve as an intermediary between the clients and potential employers, there are some cases in which they’ve had to explain strategies and ways of handling challenges that both employers and employees might face. But overall, they try to empower both the employee and the employer to find solutions within themselves. “We work with small local businesses and we make personal connections with the owners, humanizing homelessness by explaining that our people are real people with real families and real issues, and they are hard workers who just need a hand up, not a handout,” Loranger says.

Getting a job is a means to an end for clients at Chrysalis. With income, they can reintegrate into society, which is another long process that involves Chrysalis’ follow-up in three, six, and nine-month increments after employment. Last March the formerly incarcerated Charles Johnson, for example, was one of the people who was able to take part in Chrysalis’ tradition of ringing an employment bell in the organization’s lobby. He stood up to tell the office of his new job as a desk clerk at Skid Row Housing Trust, explained what it took to get there, and gave advice to others who were still searching. As someone who had a bright future ahead of him with a basketball scholarship at Cal Poly Pomona, Johnson thought he had a shot at joining the Golden State Warriors after college. When he wasn’t picked, he turned to gang culture, where he felt welcome.

Johnson’s story of poverty, low self-esteem, and the need to feel connected to a community is common among clients at Chrysalis. Like Johnson, Chrysalis client Eunice Boynton let her negative circumstances get in the way of a fulfilling and productive life. After her husband died of cancer, she turned to drugs and quickly lost everything she had. Chrysalis gave her the confidence to find housing and turn her setbacks into a role as manager at the Ward Hotel. Darius Coffey had spent his childhood in the foster care system and never felt wanted until he joined a gang. But when Chrysalis came into his life, he found the hope he needed to get on track, build a family, and secure employment as a food services coordinator at SRO Housing Corporation. These success stories are examples of the direct impact Chrysalis has on the Los Angeles homeless and low-income community, but Loranger stresses that the bigger issue they are trying to solve is poverty alleviation and the reintegration of homeless and formerly incarcerated people into society.

Chrysalis puts its program into action by maintaining labor-intensive social enterprises that employ its clients. These include the street-cleaning, graffiti removal, and pressure-washing service Chrysalis Works, which operates in the Business Improvement, Arts, and Fashion Districts. The staffing business Chrysalis Enterprises provides employees for janitorial and front-desk jobs at 15 institutions, including the Skid Row Housing Trust. Through these social enterprises, Chrysalis learns how to improve its job training classes, and clients learn how to process their paychecks, develop coworker relationships, and earn vocational skills.

“There’s a significant need for our services throughout the country, and the question is, how do we share our nonprofit and social enterprise models worldwide without distracting from what we do hyperlocally in Los Angeles?” Loranger says. “It’s a balancing act, because we don’t want to dilute what we’re doing here. We provide advice and counsel to programs nationwide, but I don’t presume to know what the needs are in communities like Detroit or Milwaukee, for example, so maybe we can advise on case management and forming social enterprises there without having to learn all the nuances of those cities.”

In 15 years, Loranger hopes to turn the tide on employer attitudes, erasing stigmas and the idea that hiring a homeless or formerly incarcerated individual is too risky. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that our criminal justice system is not sustainable, and if we can open employers up to hiring people with blemishes on their records, there will be less chances of those people going back to jail,” he says. Loranger also sees a future in which people’s perception of homelessness will shift, based on the humanizing storytelling Chrysalis does through its fundraisers, blogs, social media profiles, and newsletters.

Although Chrysalis is still figuring out how to replicate its nonprofit and social enterprise models nationwide and eventually worldwide, they’re consistently focused on their main mission to help low-income, homeless, and formerly incarcerated people find and retain decent work, with the overall goal of empowering them to reconnect with their families and society. “If we dream hard, the real impact isn’t the jobs we’re helping our clients find,” Loranger says. “It’s the dignity, respect, and familial connections that are formed when someone is gainfully employed. It’s massively reintegrating people into society. It’s making sure that society doesn’t have to carry our clients through welfare, but rather empower them to provide for themselves and their families.”

NHM Vienna/Hans Reschreiter

Wealth inequality has been a hot topic of discussion as of late, but it's something that's occurred all throughout history. Class structure is a complicated issue, especially when you consider that haves and have nots have been in existence for over 4,000 years.

A study published in Science took a look at over 100 late Neolithic and early Bronze Age skeletons found in a burial site in southern Germany. The study "shed light on the complexity of social status, inheritance rules, and mobility during the Bronze Age." Partly by looking at their teeth and the artifacts they were buried with, researchers were able to discover that wealth inequality existed almost 4,000 years ago. "Our results reveal that individual households lasting several generations consisted of a high-status core family and unrelated low-status individuals, a social organization accompanied by patrilocality and female exogamy, and the stability of this system over 700 years," the study said.

Keep Reading Show less

Climate change means our future is uncertain, but in the meantime, it's telling us a lot about our past. The Earth's glaciers are melting at an alarming rate, but as the ice dwindles, ancient artifacts are being uncovered. The Secrets of the Ice project has been surveying the glaciers on Norway's highest mountains in Oppland since 2011. They have found a slew of treasures, frozen in time and ice, making glacier archeologists, as Lars Pilø, co-director of Secrets of the Ice, put it when talking to CNN, the "unlikely beneficiaries of global warming."

Instead of digging, glacier archeologists survey the areas of melting ice, seeing which artifacts have been revealed by the thaw. "It's a very different world from regular archaeological sites," Pilø told National Geographic. "It's really rewarding work.

Keep Reading Show less

When former Pittsburgh Steelers' center Mike Webster committed suicide in 2002, his death began to raise awareness of the brain damage experienced by NFL football players. A 2017 study found that 99% of deceased NFL players had a degenerative brain disease known as CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). Only one out of 111 former football players had no sign of CTE. It turns out, some of the risks of traumatic brain injury experienced by heavily padded adults playing at a professional level also exist for kids with developing brains playing at a recreational level. The dangers might not be as intense as what the adults go through, but it can have some major life-long consequences.

A new PSA put out by the Concussion Legacy Foundation raises awareness of the dangers of tackle football on developing brains, comparing it to smoking. "Tackle football is like smoking. The younger I start, the longer I am exposed to danger. You wouldn't let me smoke. When should I start tackling?" a child's voice can be heard saying in the PSA as a mother lights up a cigarette for her young son.

Keep Reading Show less
via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

On Tuesday morning, President Trump tweeted about some favorable economic numbers, claiming that annual household income is up, unemployment is low, and housing prices are high.

Now, just imagine how much better those numbers would be if the country wasn't mired in an economy-killing trade war with China, bleeding out trillion-dollar-a-year debts, and didn't suffer from chaotic leadership in the Oval Office?

At the end of tweet, came an odd sentence, "Impeach the Pres."

Keep Reading Show less

October is domestic violence awareness month and when most people think of domestic violence, they imagine mostly female victims. However, abuse of men happens as well – in both heterosexual and homosexual relationships. But some are taking it upon themselves to change all that.

Keep Reading Show less