Chrysalis: Changing Lives Through Jobs

I started a blog earlier this year that was inspired by my trip to Vietnam last November. Called, “What’s A Dollar”, the premise was to interview and photograph homeless and non-homeless people with the intention of showing their differing opinions on what a dollar was worth to them. I would spend my weekends baking dozens of cookies, brownies, etc. so that I could give them to my interviewees. It was a good ice breaker as everyone always came away with my baked goods, regardless if they wanted to talk to me or not. Surprisingly, everyone that I came across and interviewed, both homeless and non-homeless, had the same answers to what a dollar was worth to them…

“Not much.”
“A 100 pennies.”
“Nothing.”
“Two tacos.”

I could understand how folks who had jobs, homes, and money would answer this way. But it took me by surprise that even homeless folks considered a dollar to be nothing to them. Is a dollar really that insignificant?

Entitled vs. Empowered

Entitled vs. Empowered

I was out there every weekend, spending a lot of time and money baking, driving, writing, and photography-ing and I kept getting the same answers, the same attitude of entitlement, the same thanks-for-the-brownies-now-give-me-money type of homeless people. I thought maybe I should expand my locales and venture outside of Venice. So to Echo Park I went where I found the homeless to be a little more mentally unstable than the usual beach dwellers I was used to. I thought downtown would be more diverse, but they were only more schizo than those at Echo Park. I was pretty disheartened by the folks I came across so I stopped.

Apparently, some folks grow up wanting to be homeless... crazy, I know.

Apparently, some folks grow up wanting to be homeless... crazy, I know.

I was tired of meeting homeless folks who felt entitled to handouts. Case in point, a homeless man rejected leftover pizza from BJs in Westwood because he didn’t like mushrooms. WTF. Another example were the numerous people that I was able to interview who told me they chose to be homeless. Because they didn’t want to work and because they didn’t want to have responsibilities, they were out there asking for handouts. After meeting one such individual, I told myself that I had had enough. No more helping those who didn’t want to help themselves.

Give a man a fish, feed him for a day... teach him how to fish, feed him for a lifetime...

Give a man a fish, feed him for a day... teach him how to fish, feed him for a lifetime...

Enter Chrysalis.

I’ve been volunteering here for the past couple months. I still have this fascination with homeless people and an inclination to help them… this was a place where I could actually “teach them how to fish”. Their motto is “Changing Lives Through Jobs”, providing job training and placement for homeless and impoverished individuals and families. Chrysalis was founded by a 22-year old John Dillon and initially started as a food and clothing distribution center. As the operation grew, he realized that much more needed to be done to help fight homelessness. It was then that Chrysalis developed into an organization that helped the homeless with the necessary skills to obtain and keep long term jobs.

I currently help in the computer lab, teaching everyone how to use the computer, write resumes, search for jobs, use email, etc. If you don’t have an address when applying for a job, Chrysalis let’s you use theirs. No phone number for employers to call you back? Use Chrysalis’. No clothes for an interview? Chrysalis got yo back!! Ex-con, tattooed from head-to-toe, and no one will give you the break you need? Chrysalis will hire you through their Chrysalis Enterprises division so that you can have a steady job and income but more importantly, a reference and work history for future job inquiries.

Their annual Butterfly Ball event draws some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry. Not sure I’ll ever be able to attend one of these events as tickets range from $1500 to $50000! All for a good cause of course… hmm, maybe I can volunteer to be the official picture taker?

One of the most awesomest things they do at Chrysalis is the “ringing of the bell”.  Whenever someone gets a job, they ring a bell and everyone stops what they’re doing to acknowledge and congratulate this person.  I have yet to partake in this but hope to experience as many as I can for as long as I am volunteering here.

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Phuong - Hey i’m wondering, have you ever considered interviewing homeless ppl about romance (or their lack of)? They lost (or gave up) a lot of necessities in life, but what about friends, family, and romance? Were those lost in the process too? They beg for money, but do they beg for companionship? How do they cope with that? New blog topic! :D

yeahmanh - Pretty much every homeless person I’ve sat and interviewed, I’ve asked them about love and relationships; have they ever been in love, are they in love now, what does love mean to them.

More often than not, a lack of love is a common element in how they became homeless. Parents were addicts, broken families, etc.

As far as companionship, in the form of boyfriends/girlfriends, not so much. But a lot of them are in tight knit circles, share resources, feed each other, share their alcohol and drugs… cause it’s probably kinda boring being drunk by yourself, right?

I didn’t dive deep into their psyche regarding companionship with the opposite sex but I imagine that they’re more concerned about surviving than they are about multiplying.

Mog - @Phuong — Well… I worked with homeless people with severe and persistent mental illness (SPMI) in Santa Monica at Step Up on Second and quite a few had intimate relationships. —

However! Many homeless women aren’t found sleeping/wandering outside because they are ‘housed’ by ‘boyfriends’. That is, they can find a bed to sleep in, but only if they have sex with the guy who already sleeps there. These relationships do not typically provide love, safety, or stability. —

Also, many of the times some guy remarked they were ‘seeing someone’, their friends pointed out that he had to pay for the time. —

I could talk about this all day. There were people who missed their wives and children, lost to the process of mental illness and homelessness. And there are couples (who both sleep outside) with varying degrees of stability (abusive relationships, drug-related relationships, protection/safety relationships, and more…) living outside in Venice right now. This conversation (and YeahManh’s) experience is about chronic homeless individuals – we haven’t even touched on homeless families.

Phuong - Wow, thank you Mog and Quoc. That’s very interesting to know. I just always wondered if love and friendship were of any concern to them. I think ppl think love is put on the backburner for them b/c they’re concerned with meeting their other needs first. But i don’t know, i’m sure they do desire love given their situation, but they’re not proactive about it b/c their energies are used for other things. I wonder if anyone is really immune to the wanting love (given poverty, mental illnesses, and all). I know there are old ppl past their reproductive age that desire love, so i think there’s more to love than just multiplying.

It would be great, Quoc, if you wrote a blog juxtaposing how homeless ppl felt about love and if they feel they need it or not v. a financially stable person’s…. and everyone else in between. Did homeless ppl give up on love really? Hmm…. (oh, and please treat love and sex as separate entities. sex can be bought so that need can be fulfilled instantaneously. i’m more talking about love. thanks! ;)

yeahmanh - Phuong, I know what you mean. I can see how you’d assume that their primary focus would be on survival and other primary needs. But as human beings, whether homeless or not, I think everyone still yearns for companionship and love. We all have the capacity and desire to want to be loved and to return that love. I think the question more lies in whether or not love and companionship is a priority.

If anything, I’d think that because of their situation, love and companionship is equally, if not more, important to them than it is to their more privileged counterparts. The fact that they’re so often perceived to be outcasts should drive them to want to build meaningful and long term relationships. Companionship, protection, sextra curricular activities… whatever the case might be.

There are plenty of folks who aren’t homeless that don’t have the time or capacity to be loved and to give love. Just as there are plenty of homeless guys who are “players”. It’s an issue of one’s desires and their character, not socio-economic status. They’re homeless, not heartless.

Angela - Hey, Quoc!
Reading your blog and having a mentally ill/ on-again, off-again homeless sister gives me time to reflect.
The issue of dual diagnosis (mentally ill + drug or alcohol abuse) homelessness is a hard shell to crack.
Additionally, the factors that lead to a person choosing to use drugs or alcohol and becoming an addict or alcoholic are also complex.
These might be the same characteristics/ biochemical issues that allow for someone to feel “entitled,” and behave as a victim rather than empowered.
I’m glad to know that you found a niche at Chrysalis. I think I mentioned that I used to volunteer there every so often with Mary Kay Cosmetics and do a whole seminar on how to present yourself during an interview.
Best wishes, keep it up, keep asking questions, keep finding answers for yourself!

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