create Winner / 2014

We Are All LA: a socially conscious business network to end womens homelessness through jobs

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Downtown Women's Center

DWC leverages the power of for-profit/non-profit partnerships to work toward ending homelessness for women in Los Angeles.


Please describe yourself.

Proposed collaboration (we want to work with partners!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

DWC leverages the power of for-profit/non-profit partnerships to work toward ending homelessness for women in Los Angeles.

Does your project impact Los Angeles County?

Yes (benefits a region of LA County)

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • Central LA
  • Skid Row

What is your idea/project in more detail?

The homeless population in LA County is 58,000 and growing. Concentrated in large part on Skid Row, nearly 1/4 are women.

Many of these cases of homelessness can be solved with employment. Through our Education and Job Readiness Program, 25 of our participants have re-entered the labor force just in the first half of 2014. We have achieved this thanks to strategic partnerships with businesses in downtown LA.

Because we know that the creative power of the non-profit/for-profit partnership is great, our proposed strategy is to create a coalition of socially conscious local businesses that will lend its strength to one of the city’s vulnerable populations.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

  1. Build a business coalition
  2. Place participants in jobs
  3. Provide support to employers and employees to ensure job retention

In order to facilitate employment opportunities for women who have experienced homelessness, we will launch a DWC-led business coalition. We will leverage our established partnerships and cultivate new relationships with local businesses who understand that a strong economy is necessarily inclusive. Together, we will proactively shape the economy our community wants to see in Los Angeles in 2050. DWC’s business coalition will serve as advocates to end homelessness in the Downtown Los Angeles community, train and/or employ homeless women, and leverage their networks to grow the coalition.

We will catalyze action among business leaders through convenings that will facilitate dialogue and brainstorm business-smart solutions to employ program participants. The collective of social-conscientious and business-savvy leaders will help us ensure that we train our participants in the skills most in demand, and that we approach job placement in the most effective way. Our partners will provide job opportunities for our women, provide participants with specialized training in specific industries, and help us expand our network. We will hold a quarterly convening for prospective local business partners to meet with our long-time partners and learn of the strategies and benefits of employing DWC participants.

To support these efforts and put more women back to work, DWC will also grow our extensive Education and Job Readiness programming. Homeless and extremely low-income women will participate in enrichment classes that ignite their creative and enterprising spirit such as product design, candle-making, and the art of baking. We will also offer job counseling, and workshops that promote technological proficiency and teach essential skills like resume building and critical thinking.

DWC will not only connect women with employment, but provide ongoing support to participants and employers to ensure job retention. Participants will be hired and/or trained in our café and boutique and also by diverse partners like Bloomingdales, the Music Center, and local small businesses like the Pie Hole and Groundwork Coffee. Additionally, places like LAX and Bloomingdale’s will carry products created by our participants, MADE by DWC. Over the next 12 months, we will aim to place 60 women in jobs or internships.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to CREATE today? In 2050?

The core of creation is the exercise of agency. DWC’s Education and Job Readiness Program empowers women to exercise their agency while our proposed local business coalition encourages businesses to emerge as leaders in the community by effecting positive change. The task at hand is to create the city we envision for 2050 and this project represents a strategic way to engage the wielders of power and the disenfranchised to move forward—together—to make a better LA.

In addition to job placement in creative enterprises, DWC’s Education and Job Readiness Program offers a variety of opportunities for participants to express their creativity as they ready themselves for the workforce, engaging in artistic activities such as the repurposing of old books into journals, creating charming tea-cup candles, manufacturing scented soaps, and other hand-made products that are then sold as the MADE by DWC product line. We have also recently launched a new creative initiative for our participants in which women create designs featured on products like tote bags and prints with the guidance of professional artists. As part of our social enterprise, these products would be manufactured locally and distributed nationally to help sustain the very enrichment programs that yielded the designs. By 2050, our social enterprise alone may be employing dozens of DWC participants in the designing, manufacturing, and distribution of our MADE by DWC product line, and our business coalition will have powered the employment of the women who currently avail themselves of our services.

Whom will your project benefit?

This project will directly benefit homeless women on Skid Row. There are 58,000 homeless people in Los Angeles County, and most of that population is concentrated in downtown Los Angeles. Women make up almost a quarter Los Angeles’ homeless. The women DWC serve include war veterans, older women who find themselves homeless after their spouse passes, victims of the economic downturn, and trauma survivors. The 2013 Needs Assessment, conducted by the Downtown Women’s Action Coalition, surveyed women on Skid Row to get a better idea of the services needed. Employment opportunities ranked among the highest needed resource in Skid Row. Computer classes and educational opportunities also ranked high on the list of needs for women in our community.

DWC aims to provide safety and basic needs to all our participants, and once those urgencies are met, we also want our participants to strive to thrive. Our proposed program provides targeted services that meet the specific educational and vocational needs women have voiced. We believe in them and believe that more empowered women means a stronger society, and more self-sufficient women leads to a stronger economy.

Our proposed solution is the beginning of what we believe to be necessary long-term, systemic change, involving the community as a whole and not just service agencies. Businesses who partner with us will benefit as they take positive action toward a better future while gaining networking opportunities and receiving one-on-one support from DWC and other experienced business partners to help them manage employees from this unique population.

The greatest benefit in the long run, however, will be for Los Angeles as a whole, as the city cannot hope to prosper with 58,000 of its people languishing in extreme poverty. We are all LA.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

Confirmed partners include Strategic Action for a Just Economy, Groundwork Coffeee, Bloomingdale’s, Evy, UCLA School of Nursing, Dr. J’s Vibrant Café, The Pie Hole, ROC-LA, and LA Kitchen. We are aiming to forge partnerships with Farmer John, Charlie’s Brownies, Sonax Behrouzon’s Printing Company, Povertees, Nancy Clark (Designer), The Giving Keys, Wells Fargo, Dean Management, LLC, Manifesto Café, Wurstkuche, and Piece by Piece.

We have worked with our established partners in a variety of ways. Some partners offer specialized training in their industry, others offer paid positions or give special consideration to our participants in their staffing searches. We are looking to expand these past partnerships as well as create new partnerships to help us improve our job readiness programming, amplifying our impact in terms of job placement, and offering the added benefit of networking and creative brainstorming among our partners as they seek to grow themselves.

In harnessing the power of collaboration for our business coalition, three factors will be critical to our success. The contribution of expertise and network of our current partners is of utmost importance to the success of our initiative, as is effective and engaging training and workshops that help women stay on track in their personal stability and in their path toward self-sufficiency. Lastly, because a growth initiative like this one often takes a backseat to programming upkeep, funding for this innovation is crucial.

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Create” metrics?

  • Employment in creative industries
  • Jobs per capita
  • Gini coefficient
  • Measures of cultural and global economic influence (“soft power”) (Dream Metric)
  • Unemployment rates (and opportunities) for the formerly incarcerated (Dream Metric)
  • Rates of homelessness

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

This program creates access to jobs for the most vulnerable population in Los Angeles, shrinks they Gini coefficient by targeting the most extreme poverty, and empowers local businesses to shape the culture and economic growth in downtown Los Angeles.

We do not limit our project to the impact metrics stated, however. This project will build community among downtown Los Angeles businesses and bridge the gap between them and growing homeless population on Skid Row, very positive first steps in achieving a more equitable Los Angeles and a more socially conscious city economy. Furthermore, the impact on the individuals participating is immense as this programming not just helps place women in employment, but lays the necessary groundwork for any future endeavor: self-efficacy and self-worth. Connecting with the larger community and learning new skills changes the world for a participant.

Our project also fulfills many of the metrics in the “Live” category because for our target population, the needs for housing, healthy food, and mental and physical healthcare need to be met before any higher-level needs can be pursued. This year, DWC will provide more than 100,000 meals, 119 units of permanent supportive housing, and a wide range of supportive services to more than 4,000 homeless and extremely low-income women on downtown Los Angeles’ Skid Row.

DWC also meets metrics in the “Connect” category. In 2013, nearly 4,300 individuals volunteered over 30,000 hours, an amount equal to almost 15 full-time employees and over half a million dollars. Groups from dozens of corporations come to volunteer as teams for service days, meal preparation, and enrichment workshops. Our proposed business coalition, like our greatly successful volunteer program, will not only be creating a network of local businesses but also a bridge between two disparate communities: homeless women and business leaders.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

We will measure success by evaluating the following: the number of participating businesses, number of positions made available for women, and number of women who become employed. During the grant period, we will aim to place 60 women in jobs or internships and connect with 20 new business partners. 75% of women placed in full or part-time employment will stay employed for six months or longer; 50% of those women will stay employed for at least a year. 90% of women placed in training will complete their programs.

DWC program staff have systems in place to meticulously track all our participant numbers and meet regularly to discuss benchmarks, challenges, and successes. In addition, we also measure the success of a program based on the progress of a participant. That progress is tracked through one-on-one case management sessions, in which certain key areas are evaluated. Our Impact Metrics evaluate participants’ progress in basic needs fulfillment, utilization of medical services, income management, presence of social network, sense of self-worth/ purpose, and management of mental health and/or substance abuse. Measurements of these areas are based on observational data gathered at the start of receiving services and every six months subsequently.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

Solutions must be integrated into the fabric of the economy—not just stand outside aiding those who have been expelled from it. DWC has been advocating for homeless women since 1978. We know that permanent supportive housing and wraparound services are effective long-term solutions. We also know that it is monumentally important to foster a sense of dignity and respect among our participants and that systemic change is required for a permanent end to homelessness.

As mentioned above, we have a number of current businesses who partner with DWC to employ women who have experienced homelessness. We have found this experience to be mutually beneficial, as the women enter the workforce with the support of DWC and their employer, while the employer has an opportunity to continue to grow their business while working toward reducing the impact of homelessness and extreme poverty in their community.

In addition, one of DWC’s volunteer-led enrichment programs, Whole Women Saturdays, has been a tremendously successful endeavor that allows participants to go out into the community to meet business leaders. We have found that this aids not just in increasing a sense of community, but also in better understanding where resources in the neighborhood are, and in igniting the spark of enterprise through conversations about the successes of local businesses. The enthusiasm our participants have shown for this program has encouraged us to seek more opportunities to connect participants to businesses and has hinted at how business leaders might help empower our participants to move forward on their paths toward self-sufficiency.

Furthermore, we have learned that businesses are very interested in supporting us because we see their active participation through volunteerism in a wide range of capacities: from tutors to cooks, individuals and groups from prominent businesses in Los Angeles volunteer at DWC every day to make its day to day workings run smoothly. Just in 2013, 4,300 people volunteered over 30,000 hours, which is equal to almost 15 full-time employees and over half a million dollars! And our volunteer groups constantly express the desire to do more. If we have the ability to harness the power of volunteerism to this degree, we are confident that we will be successful in channeling that energy towards a local business coalition that can have such a meaningful impact on the lives of our participants and effect truly systemic change in our community.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

DWC has been a pioneer, creating what is now considered the best-practice model for serving homeless women. Our recent successes includes expanding our permanent supportive housing from 47 to 119 units in 2010, and in 2013, obtaining the California’s “Nonprofit of the Year” title, conferred by Governor Brown for our ability to leverage volunteers in service of our organization.

In addition to our 36 years of experience, we have been successful in implementing our Education and Job Readiness Program, reaching over 1,000 women in 2013 through offering 90 computer classes, 83 job readiness classes, and 344 job counseling sessions. We have also already secured the support of 10 business organizations, among which are Bloomingdale’s and Strategic Action for a Just Economy. We are confident that in the 12-month grant period, we will be able to exponentially increase the number of business partners and their buy-in, thereby resulting in more jobs helping formerly homeless women move toward personal stability.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

Through our business coalition, we aim to overcome the challenge of businesses being unwilling to consider women who have been homeless for employment. In the execution of this project, we anticipate facing challenges that typically affect our population because of the nature of their situation: housing instability, health problems, difficulties with performing, and emotional roadblocks. To overcome these challenges, our Job Development team will provide assistance both to the employer and the employee, facilitating dialogue and problem solving in situations of conflict. We will provide trainings for new business partners, and connect them to long-time partners within the business coalition who are also able to offer peer support. We will thus leverage our current partnerships to help efficiently create new and successful ones. Lastly, because our proposed project makes part of a larger net of services provided to homeless women, the support we give to participants of this project will always be holistic and address the multi-faceted challenges that go along with extreme poverty.

What resources does your project need?

  • Network/relationship support
  • Money (financial capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Education/training
  • Community outreach
  • Quality improvement research