Here is an excerpt from Peter Garfinkel’s interview of Paul Williams for The New York Times. Williams had nowhere to sleep, had been addicted to drugs and had been in and out of jail. Then he found Chrysalis. To read the complete article and check out other resources, please click here.
Credit: Rozette Rago for The New York Times
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Paul Williams, 58, is a supervisor at Chrysalis, a nonprofit in Los Angeles.
What does Chrysalis do?
Chrysalis offers programs and training aimed at helping homeless and low-income people find jobs. It opened in 1984, and since then has served more than 60,000 individuals from centers in Los Angeles’s Skid Row, in Santa Monica and in Pacoima in the San Fernando Valley. We have classes in résumé writing, how to interview, and how to use technology to find and apply for jobs. And clients can get interview clothing, transportation assistance and food, and access to things like computers, phones, faxes and mailing addresses. Chrysalis also places clients in transitional jobs, which is how I started working for them.
What’s your role?
I supervise street maintenance in a 60-block section of Venice Beach. I oversee five sweepers, two drivers and two driver assistants. The nonprofit Venice Beach Business Improvement District has hired us to clean sidewalks, take down graffiti and posters, and weed sidewalks and curbs. Many of the people on my team have been homeless, or unable to support themselves, whether because of drug or alcohol addiction or just a long run of bad luck. Some have done prison time.
Is one of those reasons how you came to work at Chrysalis?
Actually, all of them. I had been in and out of juvenile detentions camps and prisons since I was a teenager. I’d joined gangs, including one of L.A.’s oldest, because coming from mixed-race parents, taunted as a “half-breed,” being a gang member gave me a home, an identity. But it led to arrests and imprisonments for everything from break-ins and armed robbery to grand theft auto and drugs. I’d sabotaged a few jobs and ended up broke and unemployable. By the time I showed up to Chrysalis in 2014, I had been living for 13 months in a sidewalk hovel in the underpass of Route 101 at Sunset and Silver Lake Boulevards.
What broke the downward cycle for you?
A nice cop was about to bust me for possession of a controlled substance in 2013, but gave me two choices: three years in county jail, or join a rehab, followed by attending Chrysalis programs. I’d tried that route before but bailed; this time it stuck. Writing about it was great therapy for me to recognize my self-defeating patterns.
How does your experience help you connect with homeless people you encounter while working?
People who have lived on the streets recognize each other in a sort of visceral way. There’s a little nod of mutual respect. It’s unspoken, but they are saying, “This guy has been through it.” When I clean an area, rather than blare a horn at someone and tell them to move, I ask, “Would you let me clean your area for you?”
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Here is a direct link to the complete interview.