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Downtown Women's Center debuts renovated housing complex, new vintage boutique

By Hayley Fox
Published: Thursday, November 29, 2012, at 04:15PM
Mae Ryan/KPCC

Made by DWC boutique offers crafts made by the residents of The Downtown Women's Center.



The Downtown Women’s Center (DWC) debuted its newly renovated housing complex in Downtown on Thursday, as well as a new resale boutique.

The housing unit will accommodate 48 low-income women who would otherwise be homeless, and the store next door sells designer duds with proceeds going to the non-profit.

The Women’s Center was founded in 1978 and has two locations near Skid Row with a total of 119 permanent housing units. The DWC's Day Center on San Pedro Street provides meals, medical help, support groups, computer classes and more – exclusively for women.

“Women’s needs are specifically different," said Lisa Watson, the CEO of DWC. "Some of our women have families and children, a lot of them are fleeing from domestic violence, many of our women are older and are just more vulnerable when they’re out on the streets.”

Women are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population, said Watson, adding that of the 51,000 homeless people in L.A. County, 33 percent of these people are women. On Skid Row, most of the women are between the ages of 51 and 61, and face mental or physical issues.

Janine Betts is one such woman. She used to have her own apartment but got sick and ended up homeless on Skid Row earlier this year. Betts has Crohn’s Disease and was recently diagnosed with a degenerative disc condition that made it painful to walk and difficult to work. She was determined to get off the streets and out of the missions.

“You see things that you can’t imagine -- and it’s not the physical acts -- it’s just, you see into the eyes of these people who have lost all hope,“ said Betts. "And it’s filthy and there are rats and there’s children on the sidewalks sleeping with their parents in tents. It tears at your heart. And then you have to consider wow, where I am going tonight? I may be next to them.”

Now, Betts lives at the renovated DWC permanent housing complex on Los Angeles Street. This isn't a place where women stay for a night or a week -- on average, residents stays for about seven years as they work to get their life on track. Each floor of the three-story building has an airy community room with TVs, board games and couches. Each woman gets her own furnished room, but toilets, showers and kitchens are shared.

Betts is especially excited about her desk and computer nook because she’s studying psychology at L.A. City College and Antioch University, working to become a therapist.

“I’m a full time student so it was a surprise when I walked in and saw that they accommodated things you know, I didn’t ask for,” she said.

Next door to the housing complex is a new, brightly lit boutique, also owned by the DWC. Its large glass windows, bright paint, and selection of designer coats, shoes and jeans make it look like it'd fit in in any trendy neighborhood store from Silver Lake to Santa Monica.

But here, the racks of vintage goods are donated -- and they are sold alongside tables of products made by the women at DWC. Their product line, dubbed MADE, includes candles, journals, picture frames and more.

Each item looks professionally made – perfectly rounded soy candles in wide glass holders, specialty greeting cards and hand-bound journals strategically decorated with pieces of newspaper. These items are already sold at their other store on San Pedro Street, as well as at Bloomingdale's in Century City and select stores at LAX.

Although the DWC footed the cost for construction supplies of the new boutique, it was built entirely by labor unions who volunteered their time and interior designers who offered up their aesthetic guidance for free.

The shop is located at 325 S. Los Angeles St. Its hours are Mon.-Fri. from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sat. from 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

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