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Credit: The Empowerment Plan

This Detroit non-profit looks to break the cycle of homelessness with multi-purpose coats


This Detroit non-profit looks to break the cycle of homelessness with multi-purpose coats

WATCH  | This Detroit-based company is hiring homeless people from shelters to make coats that are in turn donated to people in need. 

Winter is coming

Homelessness has declined 11 percent in the United States since 2007. But on any given night, there are still nearly 565,000 homeless people in America, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

A majority of those homeless stay in shelters overnight. But as winter approaches, the homeless are forced to find ways to stay warm.

Enter: The Empowerment Plan

The Detroit-based nonprofit is committed to breaking the cycle of homelessness by employing homeless people from shelters to make multi-purpose coats with the goal of helping lift them and their families out of poverty.

Not just any coats

The coats they make morph into sleeping bags for the homeless. 

What started as a school project by Founder Veronika Scott nearly five years ago, the initiative has grown so much they've been able to employ 39 people and have distributed 15,000 free coats across the country and abroad.

"We employ individuals from shelters, mostly women and mostly single parents," said Cassie Coravos, communications and projects manager for the nonprofit.

Beyond learning to sew, workers have opportunities for personal and professional growth.

Daycare, GEDs

"We're dedicated to making sure everyone has the opportunity for personal and educational growth," Coravos said, "so they can permanently break the cycle of homelessness for themselves and for their kids."

Workers are able to take, for example, GED or financial literacy classes, and there's a social worker on hand.  The Empowerment Plan also helps with daycare and college classes.

The cost of a coat

The coats are produced in-house and cost about $100 to make. The Empowerment Plan partners with different shelters, community members and religious groups to help distribute the coats to the people who need them.

Their funding comes through grants, sponsorships and donations.

"We've grown so much and added to our program so much, but we are not ready to stop, we are ready to continue to expand," Coravos said.

Business is has grown so much, she said they're "bursting at the seams."

Commercial goals

The coat has become so popular they've even gotten requests for a coat for outdoors enthusiasts. They haven't yet, Coravos said, because they didn't have the resources and they didn't want to lose sight of their core mission: Making coats for the people who really need them.

But she revealed they have plans to both move into a new permanent headquarters, and a retail version of the coat is in the works.

They've also caught the eye of designer Diane Von Furstenberg.

Designer Diane von Furstenberg speaks to reporters backstage before showing her Fall 2014 collection during Fashion Week in New York, 2014. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Von Furstenberg has pledged to match funds in a bid to employ to new workers.

"DVF has such a strong commitment for female empowerment, it was such a wonderful fit," Coravos said.

It means sustainability for us.
Cassie Coravos, The Empowerment Plan

With an eye on bringing their mission to new cities, sales from the retail coat will help make that a reality.

"It means employing far more people, it means sustainability for us by being able to have a whole new line of funding, and it means growth and more opportunities for our employees," Coravos said. "And that's really at the core of what we do."

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