The Downtown Women’s Center envisions a Los Angeles with every woman housed and on a path to personal stability. Our mission is to end homelessness for women in greater Los Angeles through housing, wellness, employment, and advocacy.
Dear Friends of the Downtown Women’s Center,
As I sit here humbled by the task of reflecting on the past year in my first annual letter to you, I know there’s no way around it: 2020 was a hard, transformational year. Never before has the Downtown Women’s Center faced and overcome such significant challenges in its work to serve unhoused women across Los Angeles.
2020 began auspiciously with my appointment as CEO at the end of January. Barely a week later, I had the pleasure of leading our community in the release of the DWC 2019 Los Angeles City Women’s Needs Assessment, which surveyed the needs and experiences of women experiencing homelessness from across the entire City of Los Angeles for the very first time. Equipped with vast new research and insights, DWC was going to start the decade in a big way, with plans to travel the nation and present our work at conferences and gatherings hosted by our Board of Directors.
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic upended all of that. Our immediate focus shifted to one of safety and ensuring that unhoused women in Skid Row could continue to rely on DWC for life-saving meals, shelter, and support. Using the principles of trauma-informed care as a guiding framework, we quickly moved a number of programs to a telehealth setting and implemented new protections and benefits for staff. Our donors and volunteers got to work in a big way, too, helping us distribute thousands of face coverings, hygiene kits, and phones to women across Los Angeles.
We now know the immediate public health crisis presented by COVID-19 was really just the beginning. The ensuing economic fall-out was rapid and vast, and hit our community especially hard, with women and households of color bearing the brunt of job losses nationwide. The pain and anger so many of us felt reached a boiling point just a couple short months later as people across the world took to the streets to shout down the endemic racial oppression that has scarred our country for centuries. The conversations we had been having for years with other service providers around the structural causes of homelessness suddenly grew louder and more urgent; responding to COVID-19 itself meant coming to terms with a practice of active anti-racism.
It is difficult to over-estimate the collective grief, weariness, and heartbreak that 2020 brought. Yet it also brought moments of clarity and joy, and forged within many of us a renewed commitment to the mission and community we all serve. That, together, we were able to maintain services without interruption and to, in fact, increase them to meet the growth in need, is a testament to our strength as a collective and our belief in a better, more equitable future for all.
Against the odds, 2020 became a year of firsts for the DWC community. We held our first virtual gala, dubbed Together Housed, and launched a number of critical new housing programs, including our Pandemic Recovery Re-Housing Program and Housing Justice Program (piloted as Project 100). We also partnered with LAHSA as an official service provider for Project Roomkey, and forged ahead with plans to expand and develop 245 more units of permanent supportive housing county-wide by 2025 – a fact I’m particularly proud of.
Our growth as a community was monumental, and it didn’t stop there. Throughout 2020, DWC staff were joined by 77 new hires and 3,817 new donors. At MADE by DWC, an urgent pivot to e-commerce sales culminated in the most profitable year to-date for our signature Home & Gift Collection. With the support of numerous partners, we also galvanized the regional homelessness policy landscape, marshaling political and community support to ensure that unaccompanied women experiencing homelessness were finally recognized as a unique sub-population by the City and County of Los Angeles.
Instead of succumbing to the moment, we stood up to meet it.
There are so many lessons to draw from the fortitude, creativity, and compassion that we saw all around us last year. The main one, for me, is that even as the world contemplates going back to normal, this level of care and commitment is and always has been our normal. There is no “going back” now.
And, in fact, we’re not planning to. Already in 2021, we’ve launched a new HUD-supported Domestic Violence Housing First Program and are busy laying the groundwork for the first-ever countywide needs assessment on unaccompanied women. With your support, we’re also preparing to more than double the amount of supportive housing units we provide across Los Angeles County.
With so much to be grateful for and inspired by, I find it difficult to think about life as it was before 2020. Now isn’t the time to be looking behind us – we need to be looking forward, towards the future.
I’m so excited to be creating that future with you.
In gratitude and solidarity,
Amy Turk, LCSW
Chief Executive Officer
5,472 WOMEN SERVED
260,000 meals served, a 208% increase over 2019
632 women supported in housing with 99% housing retention rate
135 NEW HOUSING PLACEMENTS
1,563 mental health sessions provided
815 women accessed health services
436 women accessed vocational services
85 Women obtained new employment
11,000+ MADE by DWC products created by women in our job–training program
7,500 job–training hours provided annually at MADE by DWC
19,462 housing focused case management sessions provided
119 units of permanent housing owned and operated by DWC
In April 2020, DWC officially joined regional Project Roomkey efforts as a contracted service-provider at a hotel in downtown Los Angeles for women experiencing homelessness.
Our Housing Justice Program (piloted as Project 100) is one of DWC’s newest programs, launched in late 2019 to provide culturally responsive services to unhoused women living in Skid Row.
Providing nutritious daily meals to the community became more important in 2020 than ever before, as women’s access to other services and resources in the region rapidly shrunk under strict stay-at-home orders.
We did it together.
This year, our community faced challenges we could never have imagined.
Only with the tireless support and endless adaptability of our donors, volunteers, and community partners were we able to collectively lean into and overcome these challenges – to learn and grow through them together, and emerge stronger than ever.
With your help, we were able to sustain life-saving services for unhoused women without interruption, and to more than double the amount of warm, homemade meals served every day.
We saw a tremendous growth in need in Skid Row, and together, we met it.
This incredible effort and impact was made possible only by our community’s collective mobilization behind the belief that every woman, no matter her background or story, deserves equitable access to housing, wellness, employment, and advocacy. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for your enduring commitment to our vision of a Los Angeles with every woman housed.