A Connected Learning Community – Christy Saxton, Chief Programs Officer, Community Housing Partnership

Christy Saxton, Chief Programs Officer at Community Housing Partnership (CHP), has been a long-time advocate helping individuals experiencing homelessness to secure permanent, safe and stable housing. Christy oversees CHP’s robust and holistic supportive services, including case management, employment services, health and wellness, crisis intervention and learning and evaluation.

Along with her colleague Iesha Fraser from CHP’s social enterprise Solutions SF, a temporary staffing agency, Christy joined fellow portfolio members at REDF’s National Portfolio Retreat. Please read on to learn how humility moved conversations forward, and why CHP’s most exciting work is yet to come.

A Duty and a Calling
Fifteen years ago I began working at a youth homeless shelter in San Francisco. Since then, in one way or another, I’ve worked on issues that help people get housed and stay housed. Many in our society see housing as a privilege. I see housing as a right, and it’s a right that’s not afforded to everyone. It’s really a societal blight that we skip over people every day who aren’t housed and who may not have currently have the skills to stay housed. I feel as a society, it is our duty to help people in need. At our social enterprise staffing agency, Solutions SF, we do this by employing individuals who are marginally housed, formerly homeless or in supportive housing. We’re supporting individuals who have experienced homelessness by giving them the hard and soft skills they need to maintain a good job and secure stable housing.

A Connected Learning Community
The 2017 REDF Portfolio Retreat was incredibly rich with so many opportunities to learn from each other. We heard directly from fellow social enterprises in the REDF portfolio about their challenges, how they’ve navigated those challenges and how they’ve ultimately overcome them. There were significant similarities to what we’ve experienced at CHP, allowing us to apply the lessons and learnings at our organization.

The social enterprise panels were also extremely valuable. The conversations were candid, and the panelists were transparent about the issues they face. There was much humility in the room with people saying, “This is what we did. This is what we tried. I don’t have all the answers, and what you did…I can learn from that.” It was a true learning community.

I’ve stayed connected post-conference in a more meaningful way because I now understand the issues even more clearly. I understand how fellow social enterprise leaders are facing those issues and tackling them head on. I’m reaching out to others to say, “Can you help with this?”

We have created a shortlist of social enterprises in the portfolio who do similar work. Many of them have already tackled big projects, like automation scheduling, so we’re staying connected to learn from them. We plan to visit them and drill down in a more succinct way to ask questions and cull best practices that are specific to our projects.

Inspiring Openness
People came to the retreat with so much humility and vulnerability saying, ‘This is the work, and it’s hard. I don’t know all the answers.” That’s not something you often find in the business world. Attendees shared “ah-ha” moments while collaborating and working together. I was able to leave with new thought-partners and innovative ideas. Everyone was truly open to fresh ideas and approaches. That collective attitude was the most inspiring part of the retreat.

A Way Forward
Iesha Fraser, CHP’s new Director of Employment Services & Social Enterprise, has stepped into the role seamlessly with fresh viewpoints and perspectives. It’s been inspiring to watch her build on the foundation that has been given to her with creative energy from the retreat. We’re envisioning what we’re going to do in service to our residents in a multitude of ways. Looking ahead, we’re considering how to enhance business lines and make them more robust so participants can grow their skills and ladder their way up past a minimum wage job. The opportunity to further impact the participants we work with and the lives of our residents through living-wage jobs will be some of the most exciting work I’ve done.