Actually Tackling Homelessness

Seattle Foundation, among its other functions like grant making, serves as a convener for important community conversations. I was invited to hear Veronika Scott, a young woman from Detroit who has founded and operates the Empowerment Plan — a workforce development program that hires homeless women to sew an innovative jacket that converts into a sleeping bag and is light enough to be carried on the person of a homeless man or woman when not in use. The program targets women with children, and provides wrap around services — like GED and drug and alcohol remediation and housing and child care support — as part of the paid work time. Women are in the program for two years, after which they transition to regular jobs — the rate of success is high. They receive additional support during that critical transition year, when something like a $200 bill for a new tire for the car you use to get to work can derail hard won stability.

Scott understands homelessness from the inside. Her parents were both drug addicted alcoholics who were often homeless. She had grandparents who intervened in her life, saw that she got to college, and kept her on a more functional path. She has decided to use her considerable intelligence and understanding and business skill to help fragile families like her own.

The organization has just expanded to a 21,000 square foot location in Detroit, and is reaching more homeless women — perhaps in the hundreds now, during its six years of operation. The problem is that it’s often hard for funders to see the value of something that takes two years to show results with a participant — funders are often more attracted to 30 day detox programs that churn out large numbers of people but often provide little lasting change. And given the thousands of homeless people in every city across the country, what Scott and her program are doing can seem like a drop in the bucket.

Except that what she is doing works, and the large sums that Seattle is spending trying to assuage our large and visible homeless problem does not seem to be.

Take a look at the website, and see if you aren’t impressed. I am.

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