Recognizing in the early 1980s that widespread homelessness was a new phenomenon facing the city of Los Angeles, downtown civic leaders knew that combating the growing, serious problem would require innovative methods. The Weingart Center Association (WCA), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, has become that innovative agency— the Weingart Center provides homeless individuals with the basic skills necessary to stabilize their lives, secure income and find permanent housing.
Located in the heart of downtown Los Angeles’ Skid Row, the Weingart Center has a rich history. The Weingart Center resides in what was originally the El Rey hotel, an 11-story building constructed in 1926, which later came under the ownership of Ben Weingart and the Weingart Foundation. With support from the Weingart Foundation, the business community, Los Angeles County, the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency, a $1.6 million federal Urban Development Action Grant, and a dynamic director, Maxine Johnston—who had the vision for a “one-stop shop” for services—the Weingart Center Association opened in 1983 as the most comprehensive human services center for homeless men and women in the Western U.S.
The Weingart Center partners and collaborates with a multitude of public and private agencies, maximizing expertise, to provide on-site services, including:
- Workforce Development
- Mental Health & Substance Abuse Treatment
- Case Management
- Community Voice Mail
- Meals/Weingart Café
- And many more services
In the early 1990s the Weingart Center enhanced its service offering for HIV+ individuals by adding on-site residential programs for people with this diagnosis. We also added the recuperative care program, which provides medical assistance and shelter to individuals who are released from area hospitals with illnesses or injuries that will be exacerbated by homelessness.
In 1992, the Weingart Center identified that individuals newly released from the prison system are in great need assistance, and therefore began a program designed to assist people on parole with successfully re-integrating back into the community. We continue to offer Re-Entry programs.
In 1997, with the award of several significant grants, the Weingart Center designed programs specifically for women, substance abuse recovery and workforce development. That year also saw the opening of the Weingart Center walk-in Access Center that assists homeless individuals and families, and those at-risk of homelessness, by providing them with information, referral services and case advocacy. The Access Center, also known as our Hope Row Resource Center, moved into new expanded quarters on the first floor of the Weingart Center early in 2011.
The New Millennium
The Weingart Center proudly opened the Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Learning and Employment Center in 2000. For eight years the Leavey Center’s learning labs helped program clients increase their education level, boost their self-esteem, and prepare for employment with job preparedness classes. The learning labs still reside in the community.
As this new millennium progresses, we are actively enhancing our workforce development model. We have created on-site training programs in customer service, custodial service and food service, and we continually strengthen our ties with businesses in the community, which generates more job opportunities for our clients. We also have an on-site boutique, stocked with clothing donations, which provides appropriate attire for individuals entering the workforce.
The organization moved its employment services from the Leavey Center to a building across the street in the summer of 2008 to start construction on the Center for Community Health. Opened in the summer of 2009, this state-of-the-art health center provides integrated health care—medical, mental health, substance abuse services, dentistry, optometry and pharmacy—to poor, housed and homeless residents and workers in downtown Los Angeles. The 21,000 square foot health center replaced an existing 9,000 sq. ft. clinic.
In 2009, the Weingart Center celebrated its 25th anniversary as well as embarked on an ambitious 25-year plan, which builds on the successes of the previous quarter century. This plan sets forth a framework for ensuring that all clients have the resources they need to secure housing, income, and a healthy, productive life. This dynamic vision for transforming the lives of thousands of homeless and low-income individuals will include the following initiatives:
- Permanent Supportive Housing - Develop a model that includes supportive services and launch a capital campaign to secure and operate a facility in Los Angeles.
- Regional Center - Develop a Regional Center that expands our transitional housing services beyond the Skid Row community.
- Workforce Development - Continue an effective Workforce Development model in partnership with the business community of Los Angeles to provide a skilled labor force.
- Social-Enterprises - Develop multiple revenue streams to create long-term sustainability (Accomplished! December 2011.)
Launched 360 Degree Solutions, an innovative Social Enterprise creating jobs and improving health and safety in Skid Row. 360 Degree Solutions has first ventured into Pest Management, with a Landscaping business model on the horizon.
The Weingart Center transforms lives and breaks the cycle of homelessness and poverty, and therefore the agency will continually refine its program offerings, add services and partnering organizations, and tailor its model to meet the changing needs of individuals and the community. Today, the Weingart Center is a financially stable and widely respected homeless services organization that maintains itself as the premier agency of its kind in the West and a model for the nation.