Funders Together Los Angeles hosted a panel discussion to examine traditional workforce models, the current role social enterprises play in employing LA’s homeless and formerly homeless communities, and new opportunities in the field.
In June, the Los Angeles Chapter of Funders to End Homelessness gathered to learn and discuss new models that create pathways for individuals experiencing homelessness to gain greater economic opportunity. Facilitated by REDF, a venture philanthropy firm that provides money, know-how, and networks to help build social enterprises, the convening delved into innovative approaches to solving the challenges of employment and homelessness in Los Angeles.
Joined by, Mark Loranger, Chrysalis President and Chief Executive Officer, Mike Alvidrez, Skid Row Housing Trust Executive Director, and Robert Sainz, City of Los Angeles Economic and Workforce Development Department, Assistant General Manager, the panelists represented various roles and partnerships working to create jobs and employ those facing the greatest barriers to work in Los Angeles.
What is Social Enterprise?
The term “social enterprise” has garnered much attention in recent years. In general, it refers to businesses whose primary purpose is the common good. These enterprises use the methods and disciplines of business and the power of the marketplace to advance their social, environmental and human justice agendas. As it relates to addressing individuals who experienced homelessness, REDF defines social enterprises as mission-driven businesses focused on employment - hiring and assisting people who face barriers to work. Often these enterprises are nonprofit organizations that run businesses, which compete in the market with a product or service, and provide transitional, wage paying employment with support services necessary to succeed in the job.
Chrysalis: A Social Enterprise Leading the Way
Chrysalis President and CEO, Mark Loranger spoke about two of their social enterprises, Chrysalis Works and Chrysalis Staffing. He explained that individuals who need more support are those who are typically hired at Chrysalis Works. The experience of coming to work in the morning, being part of a team, learning how to communicate with fellow staff and managers are the necessary first steps in helping these clients strengthen their basic soft skills so that they become job ready. Once they are, this unique model helps them transition to Chrysalis Staffing. Chrysalis Staffing also allows prospective employees who are interested in hiring their clients try each other out to make sure there is a good fit. This unique approach provides a solution to mitigate risk and cost for the next stage employer while providing the opportunity for social enterprise employees to find the best match for their interests and skills.
Skid Row Housing Trust: A Permanent Supportive Housing Provider and Employer Contracting with Social Enterprises
Skid Row Housing Trust (Trust), a Permanent Supportive Housing provider, identified a gap in their business and recognized a partnership with a social enterprise like Chrysalis could be advantageous. Because the Trust houses a very high need population, Executive Director Mike Alvidrez knew he needed staff who could understand and relate to their residents. As a result, Skid Row Housing Trust and Chrysalis developed a hiring partnership in 2011 to source social enterprise candidates to be permanently employed at the Trust. Since the start of the partnership, the organization has hired 115 individuals for roles in front desk/lobby services, janitorial, and unit turnovers. Alvidrez’s outlook really honed in on the point that the Trust has a property management business and within that are employment and contracting needs. Therefore, it makes sense for his organization to create opportunities for impact beyond housing.
City of Los Angeles: Local Government Partner and Regional Initiative for Social Enterprise
In Los Angeles, there is a robust $40M workforce system to assist individuals gain employment, through a system called the WorkSource system. Unfortunately, the system has not focused on homeless individuals or those with multiple barriers. Assistant General Manager Robert Sainz shared that their system is based on placements and working with a high barrier population requires more supports and resources. As a result, the City of LA is embarking on a Department of Labor Workforce Innovation Fund project, in partnership with REDF, called LA:RISE to create a continuum of employment opportunities through social enterprise while integrating the WorkSource system. Sainz hopes that by connecting various partners from business, government, nonprofit, and philanthropy, Los Angeles can really begin to change systems to better integrate and coordinate activities for achieving scale.
The ideas, perspectives, and results shared throughout the convening provided the Los Angeles Chapter of Funders to End Homelessness a new outlook on the impacts of social enterprise and the synergies with supportive housing providers and their role as employers. One of the biggest needs is to identify employers willing to hire people who have experienced homelessness and supportive housing’s property services could be a potential sector that impacts at a level of scale. Additional points that resulted from the conversations were issues around government benefits and the support needed for individuals moving away from government assistance to earned income, benefits of employment opportunity tied with education and skill development, and how funders can support this work going forward, including contracting with social enterprises for services. This was an exciting initial convening and discussion looking beyond housing and towards economic opportunity for homeless individuals.
Vivienne Lee is the Regional Director of Southern California at REDF, where she leads the organization’s expansion strategy and creates pilot programs that can serve as models as REDF scales a social enterprise ecosystem region-wide.