Los Angeles is the homeless capital of the United States, where it’s estimated that nearly 50,000 people go homeless every night. A third of those individuals are women. More than half of those women are survivors of domestic violence.
Founded in 1978, the Downtown Women’s Center—located in Skid Row, where the highest concentration of homeless are located in the city—is uniquely qualified to meet the critical needs of this growing demographic. The nonprofit organization is the only service provider in the area that exclusively focuses its efforts towards women who are homeless or formerly homeless.
The Center offers permanent residences and a drop-in day center, which provides women meals, showers, clothing, workforce development training and onsite medical and mental health services. But most importantly, the Center serves as a safe and healthy community that fosters dignity, respect and personal stability in women.
“We really want people to feel a part of the community, by trying to help them regain a sense of support that they had lost when they became homeless,” said Brianna Freiheit, Chief Program Officer, Downtown Women’s Center. “Recognizing that they need more than just a meal or a place to sleep, but they really need to gain a sense of self-worth.”
Recently, the Downtown Women’s Center has nearly doubled its health, education and other safety-net service capacities through the rehabilitation of a building in downtown Los Angeles.
The development, called “Project Home,” has resulted in 71 permanent residences and expanded drop-in services, with an emphasis on enhanced case management, counseling and workforce development services, such as a social enterprise where women can make and sell products. In addition, the development has Skid Row’s first medical and mental health clinic for women. Between the organization’s original building, which continues to be utilized, and new facility, Downtown Women’s Center can serve more than 3,500 homeless and low-income women annually.
The Downtown Women’s Center initiated the project, with the backing of the Los Angeles City Council, Los Angeles Councilmember Jan Perry and the Mayor’s Office. City officials believed in the potential impact of the project and gifted a historic building, which is located a few blocks away from the organization’s original center, for one dollar.
“It’s not only the construction of a building. It’s providing the basis in which people have rebuilt their lives,” said Councilmember Jan Perry, District 9, whose district includes a majority of the city’s downtown area, Little Tokyo, most of Skid Row, and south Los Angeles.
Recognizing the great impact Downtown Women’s Center has within the downtown Los Angeles community and the need to expand the Center’s services, Bank of America gave the organization a $7.3 million construction loan as well as a grant to help build their new development. The bank also worked with Downtown Women’s Center to bring the right resources together, including matching funding from the State of California. The loans significantly reduced the amount of funding the organization required to rehabilitate the historic building for their particular needs.
In addition to its lending and giving, Bank of America invests the time and talent of its local associates to help the Downtown Women’s Center. Bank of America associates volunteer at the Center; organize a yearly clothing drive; and serve in leadership positions within the organization. Gail Lannoy, West Region Market Executive for Community Development Banking at Bank of America, is a board member at the Downtown Women’s Center, and enjoys advising the nonprofit on its expansion.
“It’s one thing to do something that makes good business sense," said Gail Lannoy. “It also really helps when you’re doing the right thing.”
With the opening of Project Home in 2010, the Downtown Women’s Center has taken a meaningful step towards meeting the needs of a growing population of homeless and low-income women. The hope is that the Downtown Women’s Center will serve as a catalyst for a stronger community and greater opportunity in downtown Los Angeles.