By Greg Hernandez
Thanks to the non-profit charity The Giving Spirit, 70 Los Angeles LGBT Center youth experiencing homelessness will receive a unique coat which transforms into a sleeping bag at night.
The impact of such a gift will be palpable.
The Center sees approximately 300 individual youths experiencing homelessness per month but currently has only 65 beds for emergency and temporary shelter. Many are on a waiting list for shelter and come to the Youth Center for meals, showers, clothing and laundry, and various programs and services.
“So many of our youth are unable to go into shelters due to do their gender identity or safety and those youth turn to the streets,” says Andrew Montejo, the Center’s program manager at its Youth Center at Highland.
The EMPWR Coat is the brainchild of Viktoria Scott, founder and CEO of The Empowerment Plan, a Detroit based nonprofit organization focused on ending the cycle of homelessness. It hires previously homeless people to make the more than 25,000 sleeping bag coats that have been distributed since 2012.
It costs $100 to sponsor a coat, which covers the cost of labor and materials.
When Scott was profiled on the CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes, Debby Davidson was watching and sprung into action. Davidson’s family foundation decided to sponsor 30 coats and spearheaded fundraising that paid for an additional 40.
Davidson then turned to The Giving Spirit to find an organization that could get the coats into the hands of those who could use them. They led her to the Center.
“It just felt like the perfect fit,” she says. “Kids left out in the cold on so many levels. I want these kids to know is that there are many of us who know they are out there and who believe they are worthy of being loved and accepted for who they are.”
“They don’t deserve to be left out in the cold physically or emotionally,” she adds. “Hopefully these coats can in a small way be symbolic of the warmth so many of us feel for them and that they know how much they deserve to feel warm, safe and loved.”
The Giving Spirit has long been supporting LGBT youth at the Center. For the past decade, the organization has held annual events that provide the youth with duffle bags filled with 60 essential life sustaining items like socks, underwear, and blankets.
“During these events, community members volunteer and give our youth the additional essential items of love and community,” Montejo says. “So many of our youth feel invisible especially when they are on the street. So many people pass by them without acknowledging that they need help.”
Founded in 1999, Los Angeles-based The Giving Spirit brings thousands of volunteers together twice a year to assemble more than 5,000 survival kits and personally deliver them to people experiencing homelessness.
“There’s every kind of person in America living on the streets in Los Angeles,” says Herb Agner, the group’s chairman of community outreach. “Our volunteers return from this experience with a very clear understanding of what homeless on the streets of Southern California really means and many of them feel it has made them a more compassionate person.”