Sitting inside MADE by DWC, the Downtown Women’s Center’s cheery and spacious cafe and gift boutique, you could almost forget that Skid Row is just outside. While the cafe can offer a respite from harsh reality, the whole point is to be aware of the tent-housed people lining the streets — because MADE by DWC exists to help and empower them.
The Downtown Women’s Center began in 1978 out of a friendship between a homeless woman named Rosa and an outreach worker named Jill Halverson.
“As Jill got to know Rosa, she realized there were absolutely no services for women downtown, even basic places to eat and have a safe place to rest,” says Ana Velouise, DWC’s director of communications and policy. “So Jill took the money she was going to spend on a down payment for a house and opened the Downtown Women’s Center.”
Since then, the original center on Los Angeles Street has expanded its services and opened a resale boutique that sells high-end donated items. A second Downtown Women’s Center location was added a few blocks away on San Pedro Street, along with a cafe and gift boutique in 2011. The cafe serves homeless people, who may come inside for water and a rest, as well as people who work in the area.
All the proceeds from the cafe and boutiques go to Downtown Women’s Center and its programs to help women transition out of homelessness. This includes permanent supportive housing — the two locations have 119 units for single adult women. DWC also has a community-based housing program where case managers throughout L.A. County connect women with housing outside of Skid Row. The center’s health and wellness program includes three meals a day at the center and the only health clinic in the area for homeless women. The clinic addresses physical needs like primary care, STD and HIV testing, tuberculosis and cancer screenings, vaccinations and mammograms as well as mental health needs.