First imagined in early 2016 by its founders, the Support Solutions team started out performing outreach to homeless neighbors by supplying hygiene kits, hot meals, and makeshift shower facilities (camping showers, really). Taking care of basic physical needs was just a start. After getting to know several regulars on a personal level, we found that many homeless people could not access essential services because they lacked identification. Early volunteers found themselves navigating homeless people to the DMV to order new ID’s and working through problems such as how to get an ID mailed to someone with no address. Our first DMV trip saw two cars packed with volunteers, five unhoused folks with no ID, two dogs, and a snail farm – you heard that right, a Snail Farm! (Sometimes you just have to get used to the surprises.)
Intent on connecting people to services once they received their ID’s, volunteers began navigating people through the complicated social services and homeless service provider network, and eventually found themselves running a referral service of sorts to serve the growing number of calls for help. Homeless and at-risk people, often desperate and sometimes never having experienced homelessness, called in to find shelter, get help with enrolling in Medi-Cal, find services for their pets, and more. This enriching but sometimes chaotic period provided valuable experience to volunteers who inspired hope in guiding people through the hurdles standing between them and housing, between them and health care, between them and spending a night on the street.
In the summer of 2016, with a wealth of experience in resource shopping and referral-making, and with another hot summer on the horizon, the growing Support Solutions team partnered with St. Athanasius Church in Los Angeles to open up a drop-in day center during the hottest hours of the day. The Cooling Center, as it was called, was really more of a chill-out center as homeless guests received two meals a day, refreshing drinks, activities, and a rest area with sleeping mats. In addition to the goodies, we moved our referral service from our cell phones to a mobile office inside the Cooling Center used to navigate people to essential services in person. Most important of all, guests were given something homeless people so often miss – a warm welcome, a sense of community, and the feeling that they belong.
The Cooling Center shed new light on the problems that homeless people face. We saw people day in and day out suffer the effects of living on the street, slipping into depression and hopelessness – people whose lives were often one precious resource away from attaining housing and restoring their dignity. We learned that homelessness is more than not having a place to sleep, a place to shower, or a place to store your belongings. It’s a lack of security, a lack of hope, and a lack of connection to the rest of the world. We learned that the difficulties of reintegrating into society are so compounded by homelessness that something that seems like a simple task – being on time for an appointment or printing out a document – can be insurmountable for someone whose real problem is “How do I make it through this day?”
First DMV Run - 2016
The Cooling Center
This experience and new understanding of homelessness informed our next effort – an employment program specifically designed to help homeless people prepare for, find, and keep jobs. You’re Hired! was started in November of 2016 by volunteers with experience in human resources and recruiting, who have lived experience in homelessness and who understand the challenges and instability of being homeless. It began as an experiment – What would it take to help one homeless person find and retain employment? It evolved into a comprehensive job prep and placement program, complete with case management, training to teach people the techniques to market their skills to employers, and resources designed to stabilize homeless and at-risk people – resources for which volunteers had developed a thorough understanding.
"Homelessness is more than not having a place to sleep. It's a lack of hope and a lack of connection to the rest of the world."
One year later, what began as an experiment with a few people on public library computers developed into a robust program with track record – nine employed participants and an 80% employment retention rate. We had written program materials, a referral network of local churches and faith-based organizations, several program participants in housing working jobs they loved, and a long waiting list. We developed additional resources to meet the needs of our job-seekers and newly employed participants – an interview clinic, a budgeting workshop, and a housing navigation system. Once the word was out that we were “in business”, it seemed like the work would never end! But we had achieved our dream. We had built a system to enable homeless people to achieve self-sufficiency.
In February of 2018 Support Solutions was contracted to bring You’re Hired! to the cozy but active city of Covina. This new territory proved an excellent fit for the employment program since fully half of the city’s homeless population live in their vehicles, an ideal demographic for You’re Hired! Support Solutions was ready to put some roots down. We maintained San Gabriel Valley as our service area, but made a decision to place a new emphasis on Covina and the surrounding neighborhoods
First Resume Workshop - 2017
One month later Support Solutions opened up its headquarters on First and Badillo Street just two blocks east of downtown Covina: easy access to the public and to homeless hotspots and hangouts throughout in the city. The team then got to work reinventing You’re Hired! in a new town. New participants needed outreaching, new resources needed to be sought, and new relationships built. Staff dug in deep to form a referral network and partnerships with local churches, faith-based organizations, hospitals, nonprofits, and government agencies – especially the Covina Police Department. We needed to make sure that we were tied in with the local service providers so that our homeless neighbors would know who we are and how we could help. The hard work paid off, and within a few short weeks we had a caseload full of unique individuals, each with their own personality (sometimes a lot of personality!), their own story, and their own conquering spirit.
In its first year of operation in Covina, Support Solutions and its employment program helped ten homeless people regain housing – men, women, and children who had once lived in their cars or on the streets of the city. Support Solutions seeks to lead our community in the fight against homelessness, but we do not stand alone. Every year over 100 people volunteer their time with us, including several former participants. A multitude of generous organizations and individuals support our work financially and with in-kind donations. We have built strong partnerships in the community which provide us with referrals, support, and a powerful mirror of resources. We have renewed our city agreement to help homeless people find jobs, we consistently challenge ourselves to implement solutions to end homelessness, and we have shown the community that our homeless neighbors have faces, names, and a voice.
Timeline of Events
Mar 2016 - Initial Board of Directors is formed and begins planning process for Support Solutions.
May 2016 - Articles of Incorporation are filed and Support Solutions is founded.
Jul 2016 - Volunteer team begins doing outreach in the community – hygiene kits, hot meals, and helping homeless people navigate social services.
Aug 2016 - Support Solutions team opens and operates a drop-in day center in partnership with St. Athanasius Episcopal Church in Echo Park – access to food, rest, activities, and services.
Sep 2016 - Support Solutions becomes a tax exempt 501(c)(3) Nonprofit Organization.
Nov 2016 - You’re Hired! employment program is developed and begins to run out of Monrovia Public Library – the goal is to help homeless people prepare for, find, and keep jobs.
Apr 2017 - Corporate partner Roxx Events begins supporting You’re Hired! with proceeds from its 5K events – funding for gas cards, bus passes, and other participant needs.
Sep 2017 - Support Solutions begins holding resume workshops for local shelters and other homeless service providers.
Feb 2018 - Support Solutions receives a Community Development Block Grant from the City of Covina to help homeless residents of the city prepare for, find, and keep jobs.
Mar 2018 - Support Solutions opens its headquarters in Covina – a trauma-informed, welcoming environment designed to be a launching pad for You’re Hired! and upcoming programs.
Mar 2019 - Director of Programs Rebecca Gonzalez is honored as Woman of the Year by Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio for her service work in the community.
Sep 2019 - Support Solutions rebrands itself with an updated Mission, Vision, and Values – a collaborative effort requiring participation from board, staff, volunteers, and participants.