Downtown Women's Center Infrastructure Development

Organization Information:

Organization Name:
Downtown Women's Center
City & State:
Los Angeles, 
Organization Website:
Organization's Mission Statement

To provide permanent supportive housing and a safe and healthy community fostering dignity, respect, and personal stability, and to advocate ending homelessness for women

Submission Information

Impact Essay

Los Angeles holds the dubious title of “homeless capital of the US,” and women are the fastest growing segment of our local homeless population. In Los Angeles County today, more than 16,000 women are without a permanent home, sleeping on the streets, in encampments, or in night-to-night shelters, and nowhere is this problem more critical than on downtown Los Angeles’ Skid Row. As housing prices have skyrocketed, living-wage jobs have not kept pace with population growth, and young women are leaving our foster care and education systems without the tools they need to achieve personal stability, more and more women are coming downtown because they have no other place to go. For many, this is a chronic situation; on Skid Row, 60% of the homeless women have been without a home for more than one year and a shocking 25% have been homeless for at least five years. For others, homelessness is a recent experience, realized only as the Los Angeles unemployment rate surged past 10% and the nation’s economic crisis deepened, and specialized resources are needed to address the unique needs of this new population. For over three decades, the Downtown Women’s Center (DWC) has worked to increase options for homeless women in downtown to access the resources they need to restore their path to personal stability. DWC is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization offering 57,000 meals, permanent housing, and a wide range of supportive services to more than 2000 homeless and extremely low-income women on downtown Los Angeles’ Skid Row each year. Our mission is to provide permanent supportive housing and a safe and healthy community fostering dignity, respect, and personal stability, and to advocate ending homelessness for women, and the overarching goal of all our programming is to offer homeless women the resources they need to reconnect with their sense of self and meet personal goals that have become lost in the day-to-day struggle for survival on the streets. Before we opened our doors in 1978, homeless women in the heart of Los Angeles had no place to turn for services and support, as Skid Row’s shelters, pantries, and social services were accessible only to men. DWC began as the result of Founding Director Jill Halverson’s deep concern for the well-being of women who found themselves on the streets following the closure of psychiatric hospitals in the early 1970s. Her relationship with Rosa, a mentally ill woman whose home was two shopping carts in a downtown parking lot, initiated and inspired the support of the many individuals who have since offered their time and resources to create a safe place for women facing the harsh realities of homelessness. A nationally recognized model, DWC remains, three decades after our founding, the only local resource on Skid Row that is singularly dedicated to addressing the unique needs of Los Angeles’ homeless women. DWC is – at our core – a holistic, multi-disciplinary program that promotes wellness and stability of the entire person. For 31 years, our flagship Day Center has successfully served our mission, offering meals and supportive resources on a drop-in basis to homeless and extremely low-income women, while our adjacent Residence provides 47 permanent, supportive apartments for formerly homeless women who are primarily elderly, mentally ill, and/or physically disabled, empowering the more than 400 women who have resided here since 1986 to escape homelessness. Within these signature programs, we offer education and workforce development services, a comprehensive health outreach initiative, and arts and enrichment programming. DWC creates a home and supportive community for all of the women who walk through our doors. We are 98% privately funded, relying on foundations, corporations, and individuals to support our vital program operations on a limited budget, while more than 600 active volunteers also work to support our direct service, fundraising, and advocacy efforts each year. With the support of TechSoup and Microsoft, DWC has been able to undertake critical organizational and operational infrastructure upgrades over the past year, which have enhanced the impact of our services by better equipping our staff to meet the needs of program participants and also increased the range of participants served by expanding our technological capacity to reach them.

  • Upgraded to Microsoft Windows Server 2003:
    • Our previous server did not have the capacity to handle the needs of a growing organization. It was slow, crashed often, and did not allow us to run all the programs we wanted. This new server has dramatically improved our administrative and program operations, as it provides speed, capacity, and the ability to manage both the staff and program participant computer networks efficiently.
  • Installed Microsoft Outlook 2007 on all staff computers:
    • This upgrade allowed staff to better communicate with each other and to integrate our group calendaring – which includes hundreds of program workshops, support groups, and events for our participants – without the ongoing maintenance costs of other calendar systems.
  • Installation of Symantec Antivirus:
    • Many of the computers we utilize at DWC are donated and come burdened with spyware on their systems. We have never before been able to afford a comprehensive antivirus software system; however, now with Symantec, we can be assured that our computers are safe and secure.

Beyond just creating a stable and secure technology base from which to operate, the support of TechSoup and Microsoft has put DWC in the position to optimize our mission delivery in the future, and we are now planning a new request for software to enhance and expand the services we provide through our Literacy Center. Open seven days per week and equipped with eight learning stations with high-speed Internet access, the DWC Literacy Center has a range of dynamic offerings critical to our participants’ journey to achieving personal stability. Many participants visit the Center looking for assistance with building a resume, searching for jobs on the Internet, or enhancing marketable skills, such as typing. Others may access these services with basic literacy needs also critical to pre-employment preparation, such as grammar improvement techniques, improved reading comprehension, and even assistance in attaining a GED. Following DWC’s holistic approach to services, we offer individual learning plans and an array of group learning activities to homeless and formerly homeless women with varying educational needs, allowing participants to develop the full range of tools they need to overcome barriers to success. As the Literacy Center’s technological capacity grows, so too will the dramatic impact we have on the lives of homeless and extremely low-income women who visit the Downtown Women’s Center seeking a path back to personal stability.

Submission Category
Stable and Secure Technology
Project Image
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