live / 2021

Project Ropa Mobile Hygiene and Social Enterprise

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Grants Challenge by Project Ropa

Project Ropa recycles more than 35,000 pounds of clothing, shoes and textiles every year and distributes them locally to more than 14,000 unhoused and low-income individuals and families through our Mobile Hygiene Services and Community Partnerships. To further our mission and help break the cycle of homelessness, we have created a social enterprise that provides job opportunities for formerly homeless and incarcerated individuals, which also empowers lives and protects the environment by reducing the textile waste that is going into landfills.


In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • South LA
  • Westside

What is the problem that you are seeking to address?

More than 66,000 people are currently experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles County. This number is expected to increase by 86% in 2023. People who are homeless, especially the chronically homeless (76% of LA’s homeless population), have significant barriers to finding and keeping clothing that fits and meets their needs. They often wind up wearing dirty and wet clothes for long stretches of time out of necessity, making them vulnerable to the spread of transmissible diseases. Meanwhile, an estimated 371,000 tons textiles ended up in Los Angeles landfills and waterways last year. Approximately 95% of this waste was of recyclable and reusable clothes, shoes, and other fabric. At Project Ropa, we find this situation unacceptable. We must do more to direct textile resources to those who need them and away from our precious land and water. (Sources: KNBC, 2020 Greater LA Homeless Count, EPA, Rubicon and Cal Recycle Landfill Tonnage Report, World Resources Institute.)

Describe the project, program, or initiative that this grant will support to address the problem identified.

Project Ropa is the only nonprofit organization of its kind in Los Angeles. To reduce our carbon footprint, we work directly with manufacturers, retailers, corporations, nonprofit organizations, and individuals to stock our closet with surplus supplies that would otherwise end up in landfills or shipped overseas. We sort these items for use in our Mobile Hygiene Service - a retrofitted van that serves as a walk-in closet with neatly displayed clothing, shoes, accessories and more. This is in contrast to many other donation sites where clients must pick through piles of clothing. We take the time to get to know each client and help them find what works for them. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this means staff individually select items for clients in a socially-distant manner. Finally, we provide hygiene kits, PPE, food, and water, and we typically operate in tandem with mobile shower providers to provide the opportunity for a complete refresh. Last year, we began accepting fabric rolls in addition to overstock, discontinued and misprinted clothing from manufacturers. Beginning in 2021, we will begin upcycling the textiles, as well as fabric from clothing inappropriate for distribution, into items to sell to the public in support of our direct care services. We will use local crafters for production, and this project will provide new job opportunities for people with significant barriers to employment, including the homeless, formerly incarcerated individuals and veterans.

In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Expand existing project, program, or initiative (expanding and continuing ongoing, successful work)

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

3,000
Direct impact
17,500
Indirect impact

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

We envision a Los Angeles where hygiene is a human right, where all people can access clean clothes, and where excess textiles are given new life in support of our community. Our social enterprise program will help us achieve this vision in the short term by supporting our ongoing direct services and by keeping more textile waste out of our landfills and waterways. More of LA’s unhoused people will have access to clean clothing and hygiene supplies, which will help them achieve their employment and housing goals. It will also mean less risk of communicable and hygiene-related disease and improved mental well-being among Los Angeles’ unhoused residents. In the long term, our project will support a cleaner, healthier LA for all people. When we help even one person access proper hygiene, the whole community benefits. In addition, as we are able to serve more and upcycle more textiles, we will be reducing the environmental impact of textile waste in Los Angeles.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Project Ropa has seen a threefold increase in the number of people we are serving every month (800 to 2,500). Experts predict Los Angeles County will see an 86% increase in homelessness in the next two years (Economic Roundtable). We need to grow to meet this predicted increase in need for hygiene services. And, we need to use the untapped, underutilized resources already available to us to do so. Project Ropa will know we have achieved this when: - We have additional financial resources to consistently serve more people every month through our Mobile Hygiene Services and Community Partnerships compared to 2020 - We are able to recycle or upcycle more textile waste compared to 2020 - We are able to increase our Mobile Hygiene Service locations - 75% of our staff are from populations with significant barriers to employment

Describe the role of collaborating organizations on this project.

Although this proposal is not for a collaborative project, partnerships and collaborations are an essential part of our work in Los Angeles. Our weekly Mobile Hygiene Service, which alternates between Echo Park and Downtown Los Angeles, works alongside mobile shower service providers Shower Stop and LA City CARE Mobile Station, as well as providers that offer hot meals and housing and employment resources. We also work with community providers who serve other Los Angeles communities to provide clothing and hygiene kits to help support their outreach programs, indirectly serving more than 12,000 people each year. Our community partners include: Community Loving, Food on Foot, Genevieve’s Garden, Lava Mae, SELAH, St. Francis Center, The Sidewalk Project, WaterDrop LA and Worthy of Love.

Which of the live metrics will you impact?​

  • Water pollution
  • Homelessness

Indicate any additional LA2050 goals your project will impact.

  • LA is the best place to CREATE