מתוך: CNN, מאת: Holly Yan, פורסם בתאריך ה- 21.01.2020
Detroit (CNN)In the shadows of Detroit's tallest skyscrapers, dozens of homeless people shiver in the 17-degree cold.
Ferocious wind gusts of 15 mph feel like cold knives stabbing the face.
Such conditions claim the lives of countless homeless people every winter -- especially those without warm coats.
Now, a nonprofit aimed at solving that problem has accidentally led to one of the most successful homeless employment programs as the country's homeless crisis keeps growing.
"This is so much bigger than anything I could have imagined," said Veronika Scott, the 30-year-old CEO and founder of the Empowerment Plan.
The plan hires homeless people and teaches them how to make coats for the destitute suffering on the streets.
These are not your typical coats. They transform into storage totes and full-length sleeping bags to protect against frostbite or death.
But the most impressive transformation happens behind the scenes, where the coat-making program has helped 100% of its homeless workers afford their own homes within months.
She was sick and living in a car with her kids
With laser-sharp focus and dizzying coordination, Pam Warren uses all four limbs to stitch a coat.
"I'm doing pockets on panels," she explains, running a piece of rugged black fabric under a sewing machine.
She powers the machine with a pedal under her left foot while steering the direction of the stitches with a lever next to her right knee.
At age 48, Warren has discovered a hidden talent.
"I'm a seamstress, that's my title. And I'm also a pocket expert," she says with a broad grin. "I'm so good with those pockets and so quick with them."
Four years ago, Warren was homeless, living in her car with her two youngest children.
She was laid off from her car parts manufacturing job after suffering a severe blood clot, which rendered her unable to work for months.
Almost immediately, Warren knew she and her children would also lose their beautiful brick house. "I had no help," she said.
That's because a few years earlier, Warren had decided to leave her husband and raise her children alone. Like many colleagues at the Empowerment Plan, she was a victim of domestic violence.
Warren married young, in her 20s, and soon became a housewife and stay-at-home mom.
The physical abuse started early and persisted for years, she said, until "I just left one day -- for my kids."
"I stayed so long because I didn't think that I could make it without him -- financially, mainly ... especially with the kids," Warren said.
After her job loss in 2015, she and her two youngest children -- then a toddler and a fifth-grader -- lived in her Chrysler Sebring for months, "calling shelters every day" to see if any space had opened up.
"For a long time, we went two days where we didn't (shower). We couldn't afford to bathe," she said.
"My daughter was going to school, so she missed a lot of schooling because it was embarrassing, sending her to school without clean clothes and taking care of her hygiene."
Her daughter was so traumatized by bullying over her lack of hygiene that she missed half the school year. She ended up failing the fifth grade and had to repeat it.
Finally, after four months living in a car, the family moved into a homeless shelter. That's where she learned about the Empowerment Plan, which occasionally hosts job fairs with the shelter.
"I wanted a job, (but) it was a sewing job," Warren said, chuckling. "I know nothing about sewing!"
Yet after a series of interviews, she got the job. "My jaws was hurting from smiling so much," she said.
Now Warren has her own home, and her children are doing well in school.
"I'm also back in school to get my GED," Warren said.
She takes great joy in stitching the coats and even more joy "just seeing them on the streets."
"Everywhere you go, you'll see people, and you'll tell them, 'Hey! I made that coat!'"
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