At a Hollywood-Backed Charity, Election Day Focus Is All About Affordable Housing

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Honoree LL Cool J, Richard Weitz, Chrysalis Board Chair Bob Hart, Donna Langley, Co-Chairman, Universal Pictures and host Seth MacFarlane at the 2012 Chrysalis Butterfly Ball

With a fundraising ball backed by Elon Musk, Seth MacFarlane, LL Cool J and Al Gore, Chrysalis helps less fortunate Angelenos get jobs — and the organization is a prominent advocate of Measure HHH, which would allocate $1 billion to bring affordable housing to L.A.'s homeless population.

When “The Bell” rings at the downtown offices of Chrysalis, everyone gets up and heads into the lobby to celebrate. It’s a tradition that dates back years and it signals that the organization’s central mission has been achieved: Someone has gotten a job. 

The bell ringer one morning last week was Bobby, a middle-aged African-American man who had just been hired to do marketing and management at a local firm. 

“I want to thank you for helping me,” he told the assembled crowd as a round of raucous applause arose. “Anyone can do it if I can, you just need hard work and dedication.” 

Watching from the wings was Chrysalis CEO Mark Loranger, who runs the organization out of Chrysalis’s downtown L.A. offices, just off Skid Row. The company name refers to the process by which a caterpillar becomes a butterfly.

“He was pretty even keeled,” Loranger noted. “But a lot of them get really emotional, some start crying. It’s a powerful moment.” 

Loranger describes Chrysalis as “a social service agency that operates businesses.” About 60 percent of clients have felony convictions, mostly for drugs. All are seeking a way back into the work force, stable housing and an upwardly mobile trajectory when they step into the Chrysalis lobby, where a bevy of computers and volunteers ready to assist await them. 

Started in 1984 by a Jesuit activist, Chrysalis services roughly 3,200 people a year in one of three offices across Los Angeles — in Santa Monica, Pacoima (in the San Fernando Valley) and downtown. It’s also the beneficiary of one of Hollywood’s biggest and most star-studded charity events, the Butterfly Ball, held each summer. Since 2002 the ball has raised more than $13 million for Chrysalis. Elon Musk, Seth MacFarlane, LL Cool J and Al Gore are recent attendees.

Loranger estimates that the ball brings in roughly $1.5 million a year in funding, roughly an eighth of Chrysalis’s $13 million budget. About half of the total budget is satisfied by a combination of fund-raising, foundation money, corporate sponsorship and some small government funding.

The other $6 million-$7 million comes from Chrysalis’s own revenue. Half charity, half functioning business, the folks who come through these offices looking for work often get funneled into one or another arm of the company’s two working businesses. These businesses open a doorway to entry-level jobs that include street cleaners and other maintenance workers. From there, most move out into the wider world getting jobs with businesses that have longstanding relationships with the aid organization.

“We hire people that are unlikely to get jobs elsewhere,” says Loranger, who says Chrysalis has two synergistic missions: to get people jobs — and to move them off the streets and into stable living and arrangements.

That’s why he’s such a big advocate for Measure HHH, a funding proposal that Angelenos will vote up or down tomorrow. The measure would allocate roughly $1 billion over 10 years to provide more affordable and sustainable housing options for LA’s 47,000 homeless — 10,000 or so of whom are considered chronically homeless — centered around Skid Row.

“[Measure HHH] is designed to provide a large infusion of cash for housing development,” Loranger says, “The idea is to get them into a home, wrap some services around them, which will be less expensive down the road, and less of a burden.” 

Loranger says passing HHH could go a long ways toward helping Chrysalis in its mission. Fully 75 percent of Chrysalis clients come from unstable housing, which can be a deterrent for employers who need to know that their employees have some measure of stability outside the workplace.

“Our role is to work with employers to educate them about why our people are going to be their most hard working people,” Loranger says. “We’re here to serve the folks that nobody else wants to serve."

Chrysalis says that about 70 percent of people they’ve placed with employers are still working after six months, a key metric, Loranger says, that indicates that a stable work-life balance is taking root. It’s a measure on par — and sometimes better than — other job-related placement agencies. 

After Bobby tells his story, the assembled who have gathered in Chrysalis’s lobby form a line to shake his hand.

Loranger, an entrepreneur with an engineering degree from UC Davis, says his work at Chrysalis is the best job he’s ever had. “Especially on days when someone rings the bell,” he adds. A lot of people come to Hollywood chasing a dream only to wind up on the streets.

“We try to catch somebody before they get that stuck,” he says. One at a time, job by job, he likes to think it’s making a difference.

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