'The Coat.' All images courtesy of The Empowerment Plan. 

The Empowerment Plan is leading the charge to rethink homelessness in Detroit.

By Erica Commisso.

When Veronika Scott was in college in Detroit, she gave her capstone project a lot of thought. She was enrolled at The College for Creative Studies, but she wanted her design to be more than trendy. She wanted her creation to have an impact on the world.

And so, The Empowerment Plan was born. Inspired by Detroit’s homeless population, Scott created the EMPWR coat, a warm, environmentally friendly coat that turns into a sleeping bag and an over-the-shoulder bag when not in use. It’s made from upcycled materials donated from local businesses, and is durable enough to endure the unforgiving Detroit winters. Corporations have purchased in bulk or the company has gone viral, and so the company has never really solicited potential donors. Those looking to help can purchase one of these coats for a person in need for $125, after going through a screening process -- The Empowerment Plan wants to make sure that their coats are truly donated to people who need them, not just used for camping or outdoor activities.

More than just donating the coats, though, The Empowerment Plan is committed to bettering the Detroit community through creating jobs. The company hires single parents formerly from homeless shelters and employs them as seamstresses, providing them with a stable income and permanent housing. The workspace also offers supplemental programming like GED courses, financial literacy lessons and professional development seminars.

In the factory of The Empowerment Plan. 

In the factory of The Empowerment Plan. 

Hailey McInnis, The Empowerment Plan’s Business Operations Manager, has been working with the company since 2015. “What makes me not want to change career paths is the success stories with the seamstresses, like seeing someone come in who, at the very start, is quiet and timid, and seeing them grow into this awesome person. Then truly getting to know them a little better, you get to find out what they truly want to do with their life.” McInnis says. She tells the story of Jessica, a 25 year old who came to the company in 2016, as a story that particularly resonates with her. “She was living out of her car. Since then, I think she just had her fifth child, working full time, and she’s now been promoted to team lead. She did a speaking engagement at a college and she did so well that they offered her a full ride to do online collegiate courses, so she’s been doing those as well. Her house is beautiful, she has an awesome home and a great family. So just seeing her balance work, college, five kids, a home and a husband, it’s really inspiring.”

Prepped back panels for the coats. 

Prepped back panels for the coats. 

Since the company’s inception in 2012, The Empowerment Plan has employed over 50 formerly homeless individuals, and delivered over 25,000 coats to those in need. So far, they are operating out of only Detroit, but plan to expand to both cities close by and to major metropolitan cities in the near future. Chance The Rapper, in fact, took the initiative to his hometown, where he hosted an event called Warmest Winter Chicago. It raised over $100,000, producing 1,000 coats to be handed out to the city’s homeless.

Scott and her foundation have seen quick growth in last few years, and the operation has just moved into a new space, hired new team members, and found new sources for materials. She crosses the country looking or innovative ways to expand the organization and maximize her ability to help both her employees and the community.

She’s also captured the media’s attention with her revolutionary business model. She was a named a CNN Hero in 2016, gave a TedX Detroit talk in 2012, and has been profiled in the Huffington Post. Recently, rookies from the NFL’s Detroit Lions visited The Empowerment Plan’s new space, drawing more attention to the cause. But, the organization’s team acknowledges that there is still a lot of work to be done. While 25,000 coats is no small feat, there is still widespread homelessness across the country and the world, and a strong stigma against employing people in shelters. Homelessness, The Empowerment Plan says, should not be a life sentence.