Transitioning out of Homelessness

Booker Sanders, 55, has spent the past 20 years living on Skid Row. He hopes to one day go back to school and help others on the Row in the future. (Courtesy: Benjamin Dunn/Neon Tommy)

Kennedy Myers || Contributing Writer 

The amount of homeless people in Los Angeles has increased by 12 percent since 2013, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. Los Angeles was recently declared to be in a state of of emergency for homelessness, as people have lost their jobs and then proceeded to lose their houses, forcing them to live on the streets. According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, 30 percent of all homeless people living in Los Angeles are chronically homeless individuals.

According to the White House website, President Obama’s project “Opening Doors” has helped decrease the number of unsheltered homeless veterans by nearly 50 percent since 2010. On Feb. 9, the President announced his new $11 billion plan to fight family homelessness. Over the next 10 years, the majority of this money will be used for housing vouchers, while the rest will be used for other short-term help.  

        Organizations around the greater Los Angeles area are helping create long-term plans to help transition people out of homelessness. Rather than focusing on finding immediate housing for homeless people, these organizations empower participants with the skills to keep a job so they do not return to living on the streets. Instead of giving individuals quick fixes by housing them immediately, shelters like the Foothill Family Shelter encourage residents to participate in finding a job, attending financial training and meeting with a counselor.

“Homelessness can create a lot of stress and barriers, so meeting with a counselor is
mandatory, ” said Megan Nehamen, co-executive director of The Foothill Family Shelter.

Founded in 1984, the Foothill Family Shelter is a nonprofit organization that houses homeless families for free up to 120 days and provides transitional housing to help families back to the workforce.

Nehamen explained that prospective program participants are chosen via a selective screening and application process.

“We interview families to make sure these families will participate in the program. A lot of times people come to us in desperation with no hope, but often times people who come to us are not ready for the program,” Nehamen said, adding that the shelter staff interviewed 64 families the previous week.

According to Nehamen, there are 28 apartments for the three different programs. There is also one-year housing and permanent housing available for those who have already successfully completed the 120-day program.

        Some families are not ready for the program because they do not want to commit to finding a job, meeting with counselors, attending job development meetings and meeting with a client service team. In order to live in a furnished apartment with both rent and utilities paid for, the families must fully participate in the program. All of the adults must learn independent living skills such as household budgeting, job searching, resume writing skills and conflict resolution.

In order to be a part of the program, the parents must be working, or have an income such as welfare or unemployment. Half of everything they earn will be put into a trust fund with the shelter for them to receive once they have completed the program. The families must be facing the threat of homelessness in order to qualify for the program. This shelter is drug and alcohol free, as parents will be randomly tested for drugs and alcohol.

        The Foothill Family Shelter also has a community-based food pantry where individuals from the program can walk in and request food, diapers, wipes and hygiene products. These goods also go to the community around the shelter, to help low income families threatened with the impending possibility of homelessness. The goal is to help alleviate the stress of buying groceries, so they can pay their rent.

Nehamen encourages people to visit the Foothill Family Thrift Store that has been open since March 2015. The thrift store’s purpose is to generate funds, and 100 percent of these funds go to the program.

The Giving Keys is another organization that helps transition people out of homelessness by giving them a job. In a testimonial on The Giving Keys website, an employee expressed gratitude for the accepting atmosphere of the organization and how surprised he was when they did not judge him.

        The Giving Keys has created 33 jobs for homeless people, according to their website.

“Once we bring transitioning employees on board, they go through a three month probation period to make sure they are a good fit with the working environment,” said Amy Rigell, Partnerships and Public Relations Coordinator of the Giving Keys. “Once that period is over, they have the option to come onboard with us full time. We have employed 33 transitioning employees and had our first employee sign his own lease last week. It’s so exciting!”

In March 2013, The Giving Keys partnered with Chrysalis, a Downtown L.A. organization that offers job training and life mentorship to help transition people into the professional working environment. Chrysalis’ mission is to create a pathway for homeless and low-income individuals to reach self-sufficiency by providing the resources and support to find and keep employment. According to their website, changelives.org, Chrysalis has provided over 500 transitional jobs every year since 1991.        

In a testimonial on the organization’s website, Chrysalis client Dianna explains that she found a sense of home through her employment with the organization.

If I hadn’t found Chrysalis, I’d probably be on Skid Row right now. I honestly don’t think I would have made it. Chrysalis is more than a job opportunity, it’s a family—they’ve been with me through thick and thin.”

        These organizations are all designed to not only help people find housing, but also to give them the skills they need to become independent and in the workforce today.  They focus on the long-term plan instead of quick fixes. In order for homeless people to become self-sufficient, they need resources and support, and that is exactly what these organizations intend to give them.

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