Social Enterprises Tackling LA’s Growing Problem: Homelessness

February 5, 2018

To what extent do you know about the severity of homelessness? Every year, the city of Los Angeles conducts a homeless count to determine its homeless population. In 2017, the number exceeded 58,000 individuals. Although the city has placed 14,000 people off the streets by implementing strategies such as rent subsidies, new construction, outreach and support services, the city is struggling with the overwhelming growth rate.

However, a new solution is slowly disrupting the escalation of poverty. Social entrepreneurship, the art of balancing profits with social/environmental impact, has created an opportunity to address unemployment with individuals undergoing homelessness. The Giving Keys, a Los Angeles based company that makes jewelry, has developed a unique HR department to employ, train, and retain the homeless workforce. The organization has provided 80+ job opportunities to people transitioning out of homelessness. In addition to living wages, the organization provides other benefits, such as paid time-off for housing, education, case management appointments, and a supportive environment. In partnership with other LA organizations, such as Chrysalis, The Giving Keys has developed an ecosystem to transform the lives of the most in need.

Bentley Coplin, the Director of Culture and Community Impact of The Giving Keys, emphasized that “as a community, we must rise together.” In her interview for the United Way HomeWalk, a charity-walk raising awareness and funds to end homelessness in L.A., she underlined that the model for The Giving Keys was not to employ homeless to make keys but to make keys to employ the homeless. As a pioneer in HR consulting, Bentley built the HR department from the ground up by designing and implementing use of company job descriptions, core competencies, compensation philosophy, HR information system, and performance management and onboarding systems. Through her work, the organization has been able to successfully employ, train, and retain individuals experiencing homelessness.

Other L.A. social enterprises, including L.A. Kitchen and Would Works , demonstrate social ventures’ impact on social inequalities. With his Empower program, Robert Egger, the CEO of L.A Kitchen, enrolls 22 formerly incarcerated, homeless, or ex-foster care students every 14 weeks. These students receive training from L.A. Kitchen’s chefs and industry professionals. Culinary training is paired with life skills support and professional training provided by their on-staff MSW social worker and workforce development coordinator. Another organization to keep an eye on is Would Works, a wood product manufacturer that employs individuals who are living in poverty or extreme homelessness. The organization has gained celebrity support from Nick Offerman, best known as Ron Swanson in Parks and Recreation, who pledged to match any donations to Would Works up to $20,000.

Can social enterprises be the solution to the universal problem of homelessness? Los Angeles has become an epicenter for social change. With the increasing number of social enterprises employing individuals undergoing homelessness, the cycle of poverty is slowly dissolving. As a result, the private sector has the ability to implement innovative solutions to address social inequalities. If you want to be on the forefront of social change and wish to integrate social entrepreneurship within your organization, then please reach out to us. Email: