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.

DWC’s two locations serve about 4,000 women a year. Velouise says the average age of the women they see is 55. The 2018 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count showed that females make up 34 percent of the homeless Skid Row population, a 35 percent increase from 2017. The 62-and-over age group for homeless men and women increased by 5 percent during that time.

In partnership with the Los Angeles Regional Initiative for Social Enterprise (LA:RISE), DWC provides education and job training through MADE by DWC — the center’s cafe, boutiques and handmade goods.

DWC’s cafe and boutiques employ formerly homeless women who have gone through the center’s programs. The goods they sell in the boutiques and online are made by women at the center and include stylish scented candles and soaps as well as one-of-a-kind journals made from old books. The women earn minimum wage to create goods or work at the boutiques and cafes, while also learning skills to hopefully help them for future employment.

“They are trained to work in a retail barista environment like this with the hope and intention that through this training they could go on to become employed at Starbucks or another cafe-type environment,” Velouise says.

Downtown Women's Center Cafe; Credit: Made by DWC

Downtown Women's Center Cafe; Credit: Made by DWC

The women make all the hot, iced and blended coffee, tea and fruit drinks on site. Of course they have almond and soy milks and the coffee is organic. Chipotle pineapple tea and a passion fruit slush are among the more distinctive offerings. In honor of summer, the current special is an Arnold Palmer. Fake flower garland also hangs from the ceiling this time of year.

“It’s been interesting learning the different coffee drinks and how to make them and serve them,” says Reanna, a formerly homeless woman who has worked at the MADE by DWC cafe for about three years. “I love selling the products that the ladies make.”

Reanna says she also appreciates the computer training on the cafe’s register.

The cafe’s full case of food includes several premade salads from Simply Salad, such as the popular Downtown Cobb ($8.95), the Seared Samurai with ahi tuna ($10.95) and the plant-based Earthy Nutty Crunchy with tofu, beets, edamame and artichoke hearts ($7.95).

Sandwiches and pastries are from Homeboy Bakery, part of downtown’s Homeboy Industries, which helps gang members transition out of that lifestyle. Think staples such as tuna salad and turkey arugula sandwiches ($7.50 and $8.75) plus scones, croissants, bagels, muffins, coffee cake and big chocolate chip cookies ($1.75 to $3.25).

Happy hour is every Friday from 2 to 4 p.m.; coffee, tea and pastries are 30 percent off.

MADE by DWC Cafe and Gift Boutique: 438 S. San Pedro St., downtown; (213) 213-2881. MADE by DWC Resale Boutique: 325 S. Los Angeles St., downtown; (213) 225-8020.

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