Jackets Create Warmth — And Employment — For Detroit’s Homeless

An art student’s class project to fill a need in Detroit has evolved into a worldwide quest to help the homeless and impoverished.

One girl’s college class project to design coats for the destitute has become a quest to empower the homeless population of Detroit.

Veronika Scott accepted a challenge from her college professor to design something that “fills a need” in Detroit. In response to the challenge, the then 20-year-old College for Creative Studies art student crafted fully insulated, water-proof jackets that converts into a knapsack and sleeping bag, inspired from her observations on the streets.

"So many people on the streets are wearing somebody else's trash," said the now 26-year-old. "The coat itself was meant to offer people warmth...but also to give them a little bit of pride."

The EMPWR coats initially meant to offer comfort and pride for the homeless but one woman’s words changed that.

"She said, 'Your coats don't matter, jobs matter. We need jobs, not coats,'" Scott said. "It was then about who I could employ."

The nonprofit Empowerment Plan launched in 2010 and employs former and current homeless people to manufacture its coats. The company only hires homeless single parents without violent criminal records. The employees are paid above the minimum wage in Michigan and can qualify for microloans.




"This is a lesson in being employed," Scott said, adding that one of her employees spent her life on the streets in prostitution. "She took her microloan and got a car and re-enrolled in school."

Since 2012, the group has made and distributed more than 15,000 free coats around the world. The coats are not just ordered by nonprofit organizations for free distribution but also are used by the Red Cross for disaster relief.

While Scott wants Detroit to remain the main hub for the Empowerment Plan, other locations have asked about offering the training program for their homeless populations, including Paris and Portugal.