Woman's Coat Design Turns Into Company That Empowers Homeless
What started as a class project turned into something much, much bigger.
A cold day in Detroit will chill you to the bones. The wind gusts alone can feel like sharp blades of glass on your skin.
The conditions are especially dangerous for the population of over 2,000 homeless people who live on the streets of Detroit, MI. Nearly 700 people experiencing homelessness are killed by hypothermia each year in the U.S.
One non-profit is doing its part to help bring that number way down by making coats for people living on the streets. The durable, water-resistant jackets transform into storage totes and full-length sleeping bags.
“Empowerment Plan" was started by a college student. Veronika Scott, who was 20 years old at the time, was majoring in product design at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit when she was tasked to design a product that fulfilled a need in the community.
After doing some research, Scott learned that hundreds of homeless people suffer each year when they can't get into shelters during the freezing winter months. Even though she didn't have any experience in clothing design, she started working on a prototype for a heavy-duty coat that could turn into a sleeping bag.
"It took 80-plus hours to make the first one," Scott (pictured below) told CNN .
When she first started the project, Scott went to homeless shelters to get feedback on her design. On one of her visits, she said a lady at the shelter started “full on yelling at her" when she was fitting someone with a coat.
"'You! You with the coat! Coat lady!'" Scott remembered the woman shouting. "'This is pointless! I don't need a coat! I need a job!'"
After that, Scott's class project took a turn from simply creating the coats to building an organization to provide jobs for homeless people.
Now, 10 years later, Scott is the CEO and founder of Empowerment Plan, where she employs around 80 individuals at a time to help manufacture the coats – 100% of which are able to afford their own homes within months.
Scott, who experienced periods of homelessness during her own childhood, knows how important is to not only get people into homes, but to keep them there.
According to the organization's website, roughly 60% of the work week at Empowerment Plan is dedicated to coat production while the other 40% is dedicated to programming and supportive services like financial health and GED training.
Empowerment Plan also partners with organizations in Detroit and other cities around the world to find out which areas would most benefit from the coats and how to best distribute them.
"There's so many great outreach organizations and soup kitchens, and those are the people that we partner with," Scott said. "And that's how we do it around the world, too."
For now, Empowerment Plan is funded solely by individual gifts. A $125 donation pays for the material costs and labor for one coat, and donors can ask that their donations go to specific communities or wherever the greatest need is.
As for Scott, she's just happy she's been able to make a lasting impact on her employees and the people who've received the coats.
"This is so much bigger than anything I could have imagined," she said.
Feeling inspired? You can make a donation to Empowerment Plan today by clicking here .