Delivering self-sufficiency in the San Fernando and Antelope valleys
Case Manager Brenda Navarrete was sitting at her desk when one of her clients called desperate for a place to sleep that night. The mother of three said she was escaping domestic violence and needed emergency shelter. She wasn’t sure what to do so she called Brenda, who had just left her a message about LA GAIN services that were available to her.
Brenda immediately started calling Los Angeles area shelters. Everything was booked, including the local YWCA. One shelter would have a space in about a week. To buy time, Brenda pivoted to securing a week’s worth of motel vouchers for the participant. She then connected her client to domestic violence services – all before leaving her desk for home that night. The next day, the client was at the shelter completing paperwork to ensure the open space would be ready for her once the motel vouchers expired.
Brenda’s quick action was not unusual. Since starting with Maximus less than one year ago, she has been working alongside her colleagues to transform lives and strengthen communities in the San Fernando and Antelope valleys. The Maximus team connects participants in the Los Angeles Greater Avenues for Independence (LA GAIN) program to work opportunities and services that will help them overcome barriers to finding a job and remaining employed.
Diverse and rich in culture, the San Fernando and Antelope valleys are home to nearly 2.3 million people – communities that Maximus has partnered with and served since the early 2000s. Maximus is dedicated to meeting the needs of LA GAIN participants with a wide range of backgrounds and circumstances, whether it is someone who lost their job during the pandemic, a person experiencing homelessness, or someone transitioning to a different field. In any given month, an average of 12,000 participants will seek services.
COVID-19 shattered lives. It changed how people interact with each other, and their view of what matters. The scope and depth of the crisis also made clear the need to dramatically shift the delivery of public benefit programs in a way that would not only meet immediate need, but position participants to succeed long-term.
In partnership with JVS SoCal, Maximus is committed to helping clients in the East San Fernando and Antelope valleys find work and become self-sufficient through a number of programs. Together, Maximus – along with JVS – operates six offices supporting Regions II and VII with a combined headcount of approximately 150 employees. For the past 20 years, employees have helped clients weather a number of economic downturns. But COVID-19 delivered a multitude of challenges all at once.
“I’ve seen a tremendous increase [in the number of people experiencing homelessness], especially with the younger population in their 20s and 30s,” said Isela Mena, the operations manager who oversees the case management team that works with participants experiencing homelessness. “A lot of them are single moms.”
According to Isela, the rents are too high and clients who lost jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic simply can’t afford the rent anymore. Isela and her staff keep them apprised of available housing options and provide them with referrals to services that can help with rental assistance, childcare, clothing for job interviews, or a laptop to facilitate a job search.
“I make certain our clients are connected with the right agencies for whatever they might need,” Isela explained.
Maximus, in partnership with LA County Department of Public Social Services, recognized that filling gaps in wages and connecting people to temporary work wouldn’t be enough to prepare participants to weather a future destined to deliver more crises. They determined that helping people regain self-sufficiency would require a holistic approach. That meant providing family-centered, strengths-based services and helping government agencies build the flexibility needed to meet changing circumstances long-term.
The biggest challenge: transitioning a vertical system designed to deliver individual benefits such as TANF, SNAP, and Housing Assistance via siloed programs, to a coordinated horizontal one addressing the combined needs of a participant.
Working in partnership with other organizations and government programs, the LA GAIN staff refer their participants to services that will alleviate barriers to employment, such as mental health services, substance use and domestic violence services, and childcare. Staff also connect participants to employers via job fairs, Job Clubs, and short-term training programs.
For participants experiencing homelessness, Maximus offers a subsidized work program to help clients gain needed experience to secure stable employment and eventually housing. They are paid $15 an hour during this 8- to 10-month transitional period and have access to wraparound services such as showers and other amenities to help them succeed. In addition, Maximus dedicates case managers specifically to participants experiencing homelessness.
Between March and August 2020, Maximus helped 2,000 LA GAIN participants secure work in the healthcare, government services, grocery, and transportation sectors. Since August 2020, that number has risen to nearly 7,000 employed participants.
How we did it
Maximus embraced technology, flexibility, and partnerships to quickly meet the evolving needs of LA GAIN participants. Staff emphasized coordination and connection throughout: with participants, between service providers and government agencies, and employers and potential job applicants.
Staff increased phone outreach, went directly into the community, actively listened to participants’ challenges, and facilitated connections virtually. At the same time, Maximus created a job development team to identify employers who were hiring and solidified their participation in job fairs (some virtual) to connect them with work ready participants before, during, and after the pandemic. Actions included:
- Creating the first LA GAIN “back-to-work” virtual job fair, which drew over 50 participants and 4 employers
- Coordinating the Valley Works Job Fair with the Valley Economic Alliance, drawing 355 applicants and 35 employers, including Cedars-Sinai Hospital, Dynamic Nursing, FedEx Ground, Northrup Grumman, and the United States Postal Service
- Hosting a virtual hiring event in partnership with Amazon — attended by more than 52 participants
- Targeting employers that hire essential workers, including grocery chains, healthcare workers, and delivery workers
Participants experiencing homelessness also participate in the job fairs hosted by LA GAIN. Case managers steer those with limited job experience toward entry-level retail jobs with organizations such as Macy’s or Amazon. These entry-level jobs provide the experience needed to build a career and pursue upward mobility.
Recognizing the importance of flexibility
Maximus staff met the pandemic with innovation. To compensate for the fact that the office did not provide in-person services for many months due to the challenges with COVID-19, staff relied on frequent phone calls to connect with clients. A new website with a chat function is under development and slated to go live in June, enabling case managers and clients to connect in real time.
Maximus also established an LA GAIN Support Center to ensure that clients can always reach someone during business hours. “Our case managers have a lot of appointments. If a participant calls, they might not be able to readily connect with their case manager,” said Deborah Redding, the project director for LA GAIN. “Now someone will always answer the line so that we do not lose a connection. It’s something I wish we had during the height of the pandemic.”
Continuing the theme of flexibility, a plan is underway for the case manager for clients experiencing homelessness to be onsite at LA Family Housing, which is a partner. Hundreds of participants walk into the agency on a regular basis. Having a Maximus case manager onsite one day per week enhances the ability to strengthen connections and provide timely, holistic assistance.
The Maximus difference
While Maximus adapted, one thing remained steady: the team’s ties to the community. Many staff were once clients and continue to live in the communities served. They go back into the community and share their experience, building trust and helping to determine their needs.
That’s why when a client and mother of three couldn’t reach someone to assist her with her housing needs, she called Brenda. She knew that Brenda wouldn’t stop at securing a referral. She knew that Brenda would make certain she received the help she needed and was settled.
“It takes a community working together to fulfill the needs of some of our participants because a lot of them have a lot of barriers,” said Deborah, adding that many staff have hit those same barriers and have first-hand knowledge of what it takes to overcome them.