Pacific Gateway

Participants in Pacific Gateway's workforce program pose for a photo at Willow Springs Park. Their workload consists of learning how to take care of the park grounds and financial planning classes.

The staff at Pacific Gateway are dedicated to innovating the Long Beach workforce, providing career resources to community members who need it most.

While their services range from youth services and flexible workforce models, their partnership with the Long Beach Multi-Service Center shines a light on the heart of the organization.

"We work directly with people who are temporarily unhoused," Erick Serrato, assistant executive director, said. "Our goal for them is to graduate those participants toward self sufficiency so they can hold and thrive in a job on their own, without us."

Candidates referred by the Multi-Service Center — a resource center for people experiencing homelessness — are able to apply for jobs through Pacific Gateway. Once their journey begins, organizers supply them with transportation, financial resources to help them build credit and establish a bank account and other career resources like resume building and networking. Lunch also is provided, as well as a paycheck each week.

At Willow Springs Park, 15 workers — all referred by the Multi-Service Center — work three 5-hour days every week.

For the first six weeks, the participants work three 5-hour days during the week where they learn how to take care of the park grounds, including gardening and landscaping, horticulture studies and plant medicine.

Every Thursday, they attend a paid skills workshop at the Multi-Service Center, partnership with the Goodwill. These workshops assist the participants with job search, resume updates, budgeting and interviewing.

Upon completion of the first six weeks of the program, participants are able to increase their hours of work.

"We want them to be able to foster real skills and attain full-time jobs where they can put those skills to use," Serrato said. "The best part is the park manager has said the park has improved. The environment is nicer, they helped get rid of non-native plant species and overall have proved themselves to be an asset to park services."

The pilot program started in June and is expected to end with 30 people graduating in December. While Pacific Gateway will still be available to help them along their journey when needed, there will be less hand-holding. Currently, program leads check in weekly and carve out time for participants to provide catered assistance.

The goal for 2021 is to scale the program to include additional sites like Animal Care Services and Sunnyside Cemetery to open up the program to even more folks in the community, Serrato said. 

"This is a group of folks who have had a lot of disruption in their life, but also serious trauma," he said. "So this is the first time that they've not only been able to work but also see the product of their work surrounded by people who are truly trying to help them succeed."

Their team lead, Sokko Kong, said her team has been making strides, even surprising themselves with what they've been able to accomplish in just the last three months.

"Since the start of the program, I have noticed a few different changes with the participants. I see that this work experience has enabled the individuals to gain confidence," she said. "They are excited to learn about the land, the plants, and they are enthusiastic about putting in the work.

"Another very important outcome, is that with work, some of the participants are able to apply for additional housing assistance, and have been able to secure stable housing."

The end goal is to lead their participants towards economic stability, meaning that at some point they won't need Pacific Gateway services. But until then, their offices continue to stay open and evolve, Serrato said. 

"To end any cycle of homelessness, we need to let go of any prejudices we have and focus on what people need," he said. "People need purpose, and we can help give them that with compassion and education and a way for them to take care of themselves. And maybe they will take what they learned and help someone else too."

For more information, go to pacific-gateway.org.

Stephanie Stutzman can be reached at sstutzman@gazettes.com.

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