By Darlene Donloe
LOS ANGELES — Homelessness and unemployment have become critical issues in Los Angeles.
With the unemployment rate in Los Angeles County at 9.4% in October and an estimated 41,290 people experiencing homelessness in the city of Los Angeles and about 63,700 in Los Angeles County, according to a count by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority in 2020, there is a crisis afoot.
Chrysalis, a Southern California-based nonprofit, is doing its part. It is dedicated to creating a pathway to self-sufficiency for people experiencing homelessness and economic barriers to the workforce.
The organization’s philosophy is that a steady job is a key step in a person’s transition out of poverty.
Chrysalis empowers its clients to complete a self-directed job search. Its services help low-income and homeless individuals across Los Angeles County prepare for, attain and sustain employment by providing the tools and support necessary so they can succeed in the job market for the rest of their lives.
Mark Loranger has been the president and CEO of Chrysalis for more than 12 years.
After running his own successful business that he later sold, Loranger realized just how much some businesses are able to give people a start.
“I found out about Chrysalis and realized that some people never got a break in their life,” said Loranger, who added about 600 Chrysalis clients currently receive paychecks. “The first job is important. Chrysalis was an interesting model I could relate to.
“What keeps me here is you hear the stories of clients and what’s been thrown at them. They come out with hope and want to accomplish their goals. When we’re successful with that— that’s what drives me.”
Loranger understands the importance of the role the organization plays in the community.
“Most of the people who come here are just down on their luck,” he said. “We provide jobs and opportunities for homeless people. Having a job means a paycheck.
“The point is to get a paycheck in someone’s pocket and more importantly remember what it’s like to work. But after talking to clients, it’s about so much more. It’s about dignity, self-respect, connecting with family and having pride again.
Chrysalis’ core employment services are designed to meet clients where they are and support them during every phase of their self-directed job search. With five centers across Los Angeles and Orange counties, Chrysalis has served more than 77,000 low-income and homeless individuals since 1984, carrying out founder John Dillon’s vision of changing lives through jobs.
“The folks we serve come voluntarily,” said Loranger, who studied engineering at UC Davis and received a master’s degree in business administration from George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
“They find out about us through friends and family. They walk in and say they are serious about getting a job but don’t know-how. So we help them with job readiness classes, how to prepare a resume, interviewing skills, wardrobes for job interviews and even computer training.”
Loranger said the kinds of jobs obtained run the gamut.
“Traditionally, a lot of clients work in hospitality, restaurants and hotels,” he said. “We pivoted and also got jobs in logistics like warehouses, delivery, driving and security.”
Since COVID, Loranger said there has been a noticeable increase in the number of people experiencing job loss and economic instability amid the pandemic.
“It’s been a roller coaster,” he said. “We knew it would be radically different right away. We had to pivot quickly.
“I’m so proud of our team and their creativity. Through phone and text, we provided meaningful programming. Through it all, we kept providing for 4,000 clients. We got them a hotspot and Chromebooks. We helped everyone stay connected. We are still meeting them where they are.”
Over the past year, Chrysalis has welcomed more than 3,000 new clients virtually, due to COVID.
Loranger said Los Angeles’ homeless crisis is the worst he’s ever seen.
“Yes, the pandemic has made it worse,” he said. “We have folks who lost jobs and no savings. Put that mix together, it’s not a surprise.”
For decades, Loranger has been immersed in the homeless crisis. He admits it’s a dire situation.
“At its core— housing is a challenge,” he said. “We need more housing. We need places for them to live with dignity. The pressure has gotten so bad that people have gotten creative.
“We don’t have to build huge facilities. There are other options like small residences and shipping containers that have been renovated. What we all agree on is that living under an overpass is no way to live.”
Loranger said getting “more creative” is job number one.
“Our point of view is that the number one reason is economic disruption, he said. “The loss of a job. The sooner we can connect, and help them get back on the right path, the better it’s going to be.”
Understanding homelessness has proven to be a conundrum for politicians and the general public.
“There are a couple of things,” Loranger said. “One, it can happen to anybody. Two, people don’t want to be on the street.
“There is a perception that the homeless are making that choice. The majority don’t want to live that way or on public support. Life circumstances have gotten in the way. In many cases, the folks on the street are the victim of systemic racism and redlining policies that have forced them into that.”
There are a number of organizations in Los Angeles focused on the homeless and job security, but Loranger said Chrysalis differs from the others.
“Our focus throughout, even virtually, our time is on jobs,” he said. “We know housing and health care, substance abuse and recovery are important. What we do best is help people find employment and thrive. We know what we do well and focus on that.”
After more than 12 years with Chrysalis, Loranger said there is a lot to be proud of.
“I’m proud of our staff that has hung in there and figured it out,” he said. “I wasn’t sure how we were going to work this out during the pandemic. I feel like we’re on a spinning top about to fall off.
“I’m proud of our clients for trusting us by coming to Chrysalis and trusting us. They also tell their friends about it. It’s like having five-star Yelp reviews. It’s a testament to our program.”
Working at Chrysalis gives Loranger personal satisfaction.
“For me, I need something tangible,” he said. “I know we did some ‘good today’ stuff. When a client gets a job, they ring a bell in our lobby. What did they get? How did they get it? It’s the best part of the day. I can have a small part in that person’s journey. I could not be doing anything more important with my time.”
“Making a Difference” is a weekly feature profiling organizations that are serving their communities. To propose a “Making a Difference” profile, send an email to email@example.com.
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.