As usual on Wednesday, dozens of people who are homeless or living in poverty crammed into the lobby at the offices of Chrysalis, a downtown L.A. nonprofit organization. Some hoped to land a spot in hours-long computer and job training courses. Others awaited a course on job-searching for convicted felons.
Meanwhile, down the hallway, a coalition of major L.A. firms announced that they had agreed to put up $200,000 over the next two years to enhance the nonprofit's programs. The funds will go toward expanding basic one-day courses into more intensive classes that span several days, in hopes of reducing rampant homelessness and unemployment in the downtown core.
"The downtown area has always been the nexus for the disadvantaged and homeless in L.A.," said Mark Loranger, president of Chrysalis. "As you look at what is going on in this community, any hope for them to get out has to be focused on jobs. This allows us to do a deeper dive and provide services to those in need."
The Central City Assn. of Los Angeles, a downtown-based business advocacy group, and the coalition of donating businesses will create a nonprofit called Downtown Works, which will be operated by Chrysalis.
Carol E. Schatz, president of the City Center Assn., said that about two years ago she decided to create some sort of foundation through her group. In discussions with members, the prevailing focus was on homelessness and unemployment.
"It will not only raise the chances that a Chrysalis client can get a job but that they will also be able to keep the job," Schatz said.
Chrysalis predicted that of the 450 clients expected to go through the program over the next two years, at least 60% will find employment within six months.
The group of businesses include Anschutz Entertainment Group, Bank of America, Downtown L.A. Motors, Grand Central Square, IDS Real Estate Group, JPMorgan Chase, King's Seafood Company, Sheraton Los Angeles Downtown Hotel, Universal Protection Service, U.S. Bank, Wal-Mart and property management firm Xyvest Holdings.
Sean Foley, a regional chairman for U.S. Bank and chairman of the Central City Assn., said the bank has decided to make social awareness and consciousness a part of its business model.
"We believe that we need to serve the communities where we bank," Foley said.
Becky Dennison, of the L.A. Community Action Network, welcomed the support but said that more should be done by those who profit in the area.
"The business community, the CCA in particular, have been generating a lot of profits in downtown L.A. for a long time," she said. "They're obligated to be giving these donations and should be providing even more support for permanent housing and crucial services."
Gregory Price, 58, who came to Chrysalis after spending 31 years in prison for murder, said the computer and job training he received there proved essential to him landing a job within months of being released.
After three decades behind bars, he was not familiar with recent technology.
"I was like, 'Email? What is that?' I never knew what email was. Cellphone? I didn't even know how to use it," Price said, who now uses a wireless cellphone earpiece.
Price found maintenance work in the Old Bank District; he wore his work shirt as he spoke from the lectern to the crowd.
"Most of all, they showed me some love, they helped me, they fostered me," he said. "I come here every single day just to let them know that I appreciate everything that they have done for me."