In 1975, Jill Halverson, the founder of the Downtown Women’s Center, met Rosa, mentally ill and protecting her two shopping carts in male dominated Skid Row.
Rosa had moved to LA from El Paso in search of employment opportunities, and in her late 20s found her mental illness too debilitating to maintain her work cleaning homes. Rosa liked to cook and exchanged food for protection on Skid Row. She was meticulous about cleanliness and heated a bucket of water in the sun before enjoying a bath in her cart.
The friendship that sparked between Rosa and Jill inspired Jill to trade her home down payment for a storefront where she could prepare warm meals for Rosa and other women in need, many of whom, like Rosa, homeless as a result of recent psychiatric facility closures.
Today, the Downtown Women’s Center is a thriving home with 71 permanent housing apartments, a safe haven for even just a few hours from the hardships of roaming the concrete and asphalt with their every, meager possession, a bustling educational facility where women can get literacy, arts, product development and job training, a place to find a nutritious meal, shower, receive mail.
If you volunteer at the center on an evening when they host the community meal making, you’ll see that the center’s nutrition specialist, Tracy Hatch, creates menus that keep you busy chopping pounds upon pounds of fresh vegetables, mincing fresh herbs, and spinning lettuce leaves.
If you visited the DWC café during the day, you’d see impressive handmade products and crafts made by the women. You’d see the women in computer and skills enhancement workshops and meet front desk, residence, kitchen, skills, arts and literacy training staff and volunteers.
The stories and ages of the women who rely on DWC are widespread. Some of the women are children of homeless parents who couldn’t provide their children with the know-how to make a home and life off of the streets. Some were abandoned or abused children who grew too old to remain sheltered in the foster care system or were victims of domestic violence as adults. Some of the women have been debilitated by drug addiction or mental illness.
Their literacy levels vary tremendously as well, from no formal education to gifted writers and poets and academically advanced. Many of the day center participants are younger than 30.
If you’d like to give or volunteer to help the many women of Skid Row visit the DWC website.