live / 2019

One Emergency Away: LIFTing Los Angeles Out of Poverty and Preventing Homelessness

One Emergency Away: LIFTing Los Angeles Out of Poverty and Preventing Homelessness

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Grants Challenge by LIFT-Los Angeles

Los Angeles has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the U.S. and even more families teetering on the brink who are just one emergency away from crisis. In fact, many of our hardworking parents and caregivers (“members”) were homeless or would be homeless without our services. Through career and financial coaching that builds financial capabilities and career skills, social connections, and personal well-being, LIFT is able to empower these families with the tools they need to thrive.


What does your organization do?

LIFT-LA empowers low-income parents of young children to break the cycle of poverty through one-on-one career and financial coaching. We believe all families should have an equal chance to thrive.

Briefly tell us a story that demonstrates how your organization turns inspiration into impact.

When Irma joined LIFT in 2017, she was $5,500 in debt and had no job, savings, or stable housing for her husband, and two young children, Beatriz (age 2) and Max (age 1). Due to a lack of affordable childcare, Irma was also unable to seek full-time employment. With only one parent’s full-time income, the young family was experiencing toxic stress, at times unable to afford enough food.

At LIFT, Irma and her coach worked together on a step-by-step plan to meet Irma’s family where they were at, leveraging LIFT’s wraparound services to provide the immediate supports she and her family needed to stay out of poverty and ensure they could afford to remain safely housed. Irma’s coach referred her to food bank resources and helped her create a budget. Irma also enrolled in LIFT’s Lending Circles and our community partner’s EARN-SaverLife program, financial products that would help improve her credit score and encourage savings. Irma used the $150 in direct cash assistance she received every three months from the LIFT Family Goal Fund program to build her savings and pay down her debt. Since first joining LIFT, Irma has paid down almost $4,000 in debt and successfully increased her credit score by 99 points!

Irma’s coach also connected her to quality childcare assistance so she could begin to look for a job. Irma participated in LIFT’s Mother’s Day Careers Workshop, which provided resume support, practice with mock interviews to learn interview skills, and tips on how to dress for success in the workplace. We are proud to share that Irma found a full-time position within two weeks of beginning to interview!

LIFT’s ability to provide comprehensive, personalized wraparound services helped Irma ultimately improve her financial, emotional, and social well-being and pass on these healthy financial habits to her husband and her children. In Irma’s own words, “LIFT means FAMILY to me. I have a savings account, a full-time job, and childcare because of LIFT. LIFT has helped me to feel empowered, improved my confidence, and boosted my self-esteem.”

Which of the live metrics will your submission impact?​

  • Number of households below the self-sufficiency standard
  • Rates of homelessness
  • Resilient communities

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

  • County of Los Angeles

How will your project make LA the best place to live?

Today, the poverty rate in Los Angeles is 21.5%, significantly higher than the U.S. average of 13.4%. Los Angeles County holds nearly 10% of the country’s homeless population, and almost half of the people experiencing homelessness for the first time this year cited loss of employment or financial strain as the primary cause. Families arrive at our offices in the Pico-Union neighborhood (where one in three individuals live below the poverty line) with an average annual income of $18,000 and an employment rate of 30%. Over 90% of these families, who we call members, struggle to make ends meet, facing multiple barriers to moving out of poverty such as limited job skills and a lack of childcare, strong supports, and social networks. While there is no “typical” LIFT-LA member, 98% of our members identify as people of color, and over 80% identify as Latinx, meaning that their journey out of poverty is complicated by racial bias, language barriers, and wage gaps. Additionally, many of our members are single parents, often single mothers, who struggle to balance work, education, and childcare—teetering on the brink of homelessness.

LIFT’s program directly serve members, empowering parents of young children to build greater self-sufficiency. Members work with a rigorously-trained Master of Social Work student coach to develop personalized goal plans, working together over a two-year period to set and achieve S.M.A.R.T. career and financial goals to help keep them out of homelessness and away from poverty. Through career coaching, members connect with employers in high-growth fields, accessing soft job skills such as resume writing and hard field-specific skills and training opportunities.

We know, though, that these skills alone are not enough to keep families out of homelessness. Poverty is isolating and many families lack a social support system to turn to in times of need. That is why coaches establish trusting relationships with members to pursue goals and build confidence. In fact, last year 85% of members reported that LIFT’s services helped bolster their personal well-being. Through workshops and member-focused social events such as our annual Holiday Fiesta, members create stronger community and social ties with each other by sharing resources and building social capital.

LIFT wants all people to have access to everything L.A. has to offer. That is why our holistic model empowers parents with the tools they need to overcome the toxic stress associated with chronic scarcity, which has lifelong impacts on whole families: lowered executive functioning skills, shorter lifespans, and higher risk for disease. Last year, 61% of members reported reduced stress and 90% of members made meaningful financial progress in which the average income increase was $625/month, or $7,500 a year. For a struggling family, that amount of money can have real, lasting impacts on housing and job stability, proving that LIFT’s program has truly lasting outcomes.

In what stage of innovation is this project?

Expand existing program (expanding and continuing ongoing successful projects)

Please explain how you will define and measure success for your project.

To measure our program’s impact and the progress parents are making, we collect data in three ways. First, LIFT uses Salesforce as our case management system to aggregate demographic data, progress towards goals, and track increased income/decreased debt. Second, LIFT administers four externally validated surveys every quarter to track social connections, self-efficacy, perceived stress, and financial well-being. Lastly, parents receive a feedback survey after every individual meeting to track program delivery satisfaction. LIFT compiles monthly workbooks using data collected to assess progress against a number of indicators (including personal, social, and financial metrics). Regular meetings between regional program leaders and LIFT’s National Program Team open opportunities for the cross-pollination of ideas and exchange of real-time learnings, allowing us to emerge with services that deliver greater impact. The flexibility of our case management system also allows for rapid, seamless adaptations as our program evolves so that we can better understand the progress our members are making and how to tailor our program to member needs.

In terms of member progress, LIFT will define success using the following metrics:

  • LIFT will serve 400 families

  • 80% of families who attend 4 or more meetings will report progress on 1 of 3 key measures demonstrating family economic security & well-being:

  • 45% of families who attend 4 or more meetings will increase income

  • 55% of families who attend 4 or more meetings will improve net savings & debt

  • 50% of families who attend 4 or more meetings will persist or improve in education