Detroit business empowering the homeless with special coats, new jobs

- Estimates show roughly 7 percent of homeless individuals die from hypothermia each year. A Michigan woman's design has been proven to reduce that statistic by more than 20 percent.

Her Empower Coat is a water resistant and self-heating jacket which can transform into a sleeping bag. But even more importantly, it's a tool to help break the cycle of homelessness.

"It's not just about making the coats because the coats on their own are just band-aids. It's just having a jacket. But what would really do something and really change something is actually hiring the population that would need them in the first place," says founder Veronika Scott.

It's called the Empowerment Plan. The work space is located at the Ponyride Building in Detroit.

The nonprofit hires mostly homeless parents from local shelters to become full-time seamstresses so that they can earn a stable income, find secure housing and gain back their independence.

Michelle Johnson James is one of 25 Empowerment Plan employees.

"I was around a lot of the wrong people at the wrong time and veered from where I was supposed to be going and ended up incarcerated," she says.

Once a star student and althete, she found herself homeless after she was repeatedly denied employee due to a felony drug conviction on her record.

"Even though I have a degree, it didn't matter. "It was the big "F" on my file that people would look at before they would decide to give you a chance," she says.

She found the Empowerment Plan through the Neighborhood Service Organization and, after series of interviews, she was hired. She says the opportunity has changed her life.

"I have so many avenues now that I can choose from and I get awesome resources," she says. "Some of my goals and visions that I have, I'm going to be able to reach every goal and go beyond."

"These women are not to be pitied; you shouldn't feel bad for what they've gone through. They're really powerful, amazing people that have gone through some of the hardest things in life and have come out the other side stronger," says Scott.

You can help The Empowerment Plan carry on its mission. It costs $100 to sponsor a coat, which covers the cost of labor, materials and overhead expenses. The goal for 2016 is to produce and distribute 6,500 coats and hire 20 new workers.

Scott came up with the idea for the coat while studying at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. Her design has also caught the eye of several celebrities, including Madonna. She toured the facility and sponsored the jobs for three seamstresses.

"For me and for everybody here, we know it's about the jobs that we create," Scott says. "We're very proud of our product and what we do, but it really comes to the actual employment that helps take that whole family out of that system of poverty."

To learn more about The Empowerment Plan, or to make a donation to help sponsor a coat, visit www.empowermentplan.org

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