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Detroit Group Visits Rochester Gifting the Homeless with Convertible Coats

By Tyronda James

Founder & CEO of the Empowerment Plan, Veronika Scott demonstrates how the convertible coats work. Photo by Tyronda James/Minority Reporter Media Group Printing & Publishing.

The Detroit-based group the Empowerment Plan, who produces weather-resistant gear for the homeless, traveled to Rochester to hand out coats to individuals. 

The group partnered with Rochester Regional Health, Regional Health Reach “Health Care for the Homeless, House of Mercy, and the Open Door Mission.

Founder & CEO of the Empowerment Plan, Veronika Scott said they are grateful to work with such incredible groups.

The coats are water resistant and built for cold weather and can also act as bags and sleeping bags. 

“What makes our jackets unique is the really tough outer shell, fantastic installation and it looks like a normal jacket. There is what looks like a big pocket in the back that you unfold. You can slide your feet into it and use it as a sleeping bag or a way to keep your extremities warm or completely detach it and use it as a bag for belongings,” said Scott.

The Empowerment Plan produces the convertible coats while also providing those struggling with homelessness with stable employment, on-the-job training and support programs.

Scott said the focus is ending the generational cycle of homelessness through employment.  “We do that by hiring people from shelters and employing them to produce these sleeping bag coats for those in need,” Scott said.

“Everyone who participates in our two-year model benefits from work experience, job training, and services to help them build a happier life.”

Since beginning they’ve handed out over 50,000 coats across the entire US and in 21 other countries. Scott said they usually just respond to street outreach organizations, individuals, or other nonprofits that want coats for their community.

“It’s not us doing the outreach. The work that we do, we can’t do it without them. We just partner with different agencies. And so we respond. 

These convertible coats are meant to be life-saving, possibly saving individuals from hypothermia on cold nights.

“When temperatures dip to an alarmingly low level, the homeless community is at high risk for suffering hypothermia and frostbite,” remarked Chris Scribani, Associate Director of Development for Open Door Mission. 

“We always encourage those who are homeless and suffering from the cold to seek shelter, but sometimes for various reasons, people may not choose to stay. In those cases, we offer clothes, coats, boots, and sleeping bags. We count on the donations from the local community and partnerships with organizations like the Empowerment Plan for these items.” 

Dr. Carlos Swanger, Homeless Program Medical Director, Rochester Regional Health & Regional Health, agrees COVID-19 has placed often under-recognized dangers on a population already at risk, especially in the winter.

“Our local homeless shelters have done a wonderful job of keeping everyone under their roofs safe from COVID-19,” Swanger said. 

“However, pandemic safety precautions require the shelters to reduce their capacity. Furthermore, fear and misunderstanding about COVID-19 have caused many people who are homeless to hesitate to seek shelter.”

Swanger said resources like these coats from Empowerment Plan often keep people alive and safe until they feel ready to seek and accept further help.”

The coats distributed in the Rochester area funded by local philanthropists, led by the Karpus Family Foundation.

“It’s very exciting for us to be able to actually go out and meet the outreach teams and the people on the receiving end,” Scott expressed. “Not just in our hometown, but people that have been doing this for a while to say, thank you!”