Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

Imagine LA Announces Plans to Create a Social Benefit Navigator

(l-r) Imagine LA President and CEO Jill Bauman and Imagine LA board member and program graduate Maria Oliva spoke to the Wilshire Rotary this week at Canter’s Deli about the organization’s plans to create a social benefit navigator.


“Why aren’t families progressing out of poverty?” That was the question Imagine LA President and CEO Jill Bauman and her non-profit serving families were struggling to answer.

“Our families were doing very well. They are employed, housed, have access to healthcare, their children are in school, and yet, they are still unable to get out of poverty,” Bauman told the Wilshire Rotary Club at its Wednesday breakfast meeting at Canter’s Deli. Bauman was joined by Maria Oliva, an Imagine LA board member and program graduate, who spoke to the group about her journey from client to counselor. Oliva has been involved with the organization for more than 15 years.

Bauman, a Windsor Village resident, has served for the past 15 years as president and CEO of Imagine LA, a nonprofit founded in 2006 by the faith community, using a family partnerships model to help families maintain housing stability by preventing first-time and repeat homelessness.

There are some 60,000 homeless individuals in Los Angeles County, including 12,800 families.

“Our clients are single parents, mostly single moms, many of whom have been victims of domestic violence. Economics and domestic violence are the primary driver of homelessness for women,” explained Bauman. “We were founded to work on family homelessness because we see it as funnel for greater homelessness. If we can make an intervention with a family, we can make a bigger impact on homelessness and we can help break the cycle of poverty.”

“Over the years, we have learned what it takes to get people out of poverty — a living wage job, reliable child care, navigating the complex social benefits system and ‘financial fitness’,” said Bauman, using a term she prefers instead of “financial literacy.”

“Our families are not illiterate,” said Bauman, “They know where every penny goes, and Maria is a stellar saver,” added Bauman.

Initially, Imagine LA was only privately funded because they wanted to keep their independence and figure out how to best end family homelessness and poverty – not be told how to do it. But in 2017, the organization decided to take public funding so it could serve more families — it has since grown from serving 45 to 300 families a year. According to the organization’s most recent report, 100% of its families maintain stable housing, 64% of the able-bodied family members are employed, enrolled in school, or in workforce development programs; 80% of family members have had a wellness exam in the past 12 months, 100% of children are enrolled in school or a post-secondary pathway; 99% of children ages 0-5 receive semi-annual developmental assessments and linkage to appropriate services; and 100% of children ages 6-18 with neurodiversity are receiving necessary support and services.

“We have been innovating and learning how to serve families along the way,” said Bauman, who recently announced a change in her focus. Imagine LA is planning to hire a new CEO to lead and grow the nonprofit.

“We will also create a new division within Imagine LA, which I will lead, to create and deploy the Social Benefit Navigator and related policy and systems change efforts,” wrote Bauman in an email message. “My passion for Imagine LA’s mission to end the cycle of family poverty and homelessness has never been stronger. The Social Benefit Navigator has the potential to radically transform the way that families and individuals navigate public benefits. It will maximize their ability to access benefits, minimize benefits’ negative impacts and disincentives to work, and equip users to envision and achieve lasting exits from poverty.”

“There are some thirty different benefit streams out there,” Bauman told the Rotary, which has been partnering with Imagine LA on service projects. “It’s a system that wasn’t designed to work as a system.”

As families earn more, they approach these “benefit cliffs” where benefits they have are taken away before they have enough to sustain themselves, explained Bauman. Though often there are other benefit streams out there that can a make up the difference, it’s not easy to find them, and families and caseworkers need help. Bauman, whose background includes software development, is convinced that increasing transparency in the benefit system is a key solution to helping families and case managers find the path out of of poverty. The Imagine LA Social Benefits Navigator will be rich with data but simple to use, allowing families to enter their personal information and find out various benefit scenarios. Bauman is also convinced that the exercise will provide much needed data that will aid in modifying social benefit programs to work together to actually act as an effective safety net (e.g. prevent homelessness) and as a springboard out of poverty, so that all families and individuals can thrive.

A recent story in the Los Angeles Times reported that tax credits for former foster youth are often going unused because people can’t access them, either they don’t know about them or they don’t have the funds to get a tax preparer to file a return.

“I think if we’re serious about repeatedly using the tax system to try to distribute aid, we ought to be working hard on creating simpler processes for people,” Jesse Rothstein, a UC Berkeley professor who has conducted research on tax credits for the California Policy Lab told the LA Times. “I think many people don’t appreciate just how complicated our social safety net system is and how hard it is to qualify and figure out if you qualify. It can be a full-time job just managing all of it.”

Bauman believes her vantage point as a provider with more than a decade operating a highly successful program and her background in technology will help her make a contribution to the efforts of many others working to break the cycle of generational poverty. She told the Rotary she is already beta testing the program with the County of LA and several other nonprofit partners.

“We need to think big and think small,” explained Bauman.


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Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombard is the publisher of the Larchmont Buzz. Patty lives with her family in Fremont Place. She has been active in neighborhood issues since moving here in 1989. Her pictorial history, "Larchmont" for Arcadia Press is available at Chevalier's Books.

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