LOS ANGELES —
An area called "Skid Row" in downtown Los Angeles has one of the highest concentrations of homeless people in the United States. It is also where many social services can be found. One such organization is focused on helping homeless women get off the streets through creative means.
Skid Row is like no other place in Los Angeles. The homeless congregate on the sidewalks for blocks at all times of day.
Yolanda Waters said, “It is the place where everybody is dumped. If you do not ask for help, you are not going to get helped.”
Her life now as a barista is nothing like what it was just a couple of years ago. She was homeless and ended up on Skid Row.
“For people to be looking at you like you are nothing, treating you like you ain’t [are not] worth nothing, that is the hard part,” she said.
In the middle of Skid Row, Waters found a place that taught her she is worth something. The Downtown Women’s Center, among many of its services, gives homeless women job skills and helps them find work.
To prepare for the real world, homeless women receive job training at the center’s boutique and cafe and through craft-making workshops. The women learn to create different items from candles and greeting cards to ornaments.
The center’s Joe Altepeter said the program teaches them to arrive on time, complete a project and work in a group.
“Rebuilding self esteem, developing relationships with individuals. Chronic homelessness, when you are living on the streets, you become isolated. So this is an opportunity to really deal with those issues,” said Altepeter.
He said women comprise a quarter of the 58,000 homeless people in Los Angeles. The high cost of housing is one factor.
Women who already live on the edge of poverty are more at risk of being homeless. Many who end up on the streets struggle with mental illness and past trauma, such as domestic violence. At the center, women receive counseling, health care and support.
“They come into the workshops, they might not have a community of friends or a support network, but they are entering this safe and the supportive environment, which offers that for them,” said Altepeter.
The women's crafts are sold at the Downtown Women’s Center, and at one high-end department store in Los Angeles. The handmade items all have labels that say MADE by DWC.
Kathy Suto of Bloomingdale's Century City said sales have been so successful that she hopes these items will expand to other stores.
“We have been very pleasantly surprised. It is something. I am now working to get the other five Bloomingdale's stores in the Los Angeles market, just to start carrying it as a part of their assortment,” she said.
Waters tried her hand at crafts and did not love it. Instead, she discovered a knack for making coffee and other drinks at the cafe. After training here, she was offered a job. Now with a paycheck, she has an apartment and a reason to get up in the morning.
“It feels unreal 'cause sometimes I think when I wake up is it real? Do I have this real job that I really love?” she asked.
Waters said she wants homeless women to know there is hope and a place on Skid Row where they are welcomed.