Among the men and women in Detroit’s homeless shelters, 24-year-old Veronika Scott is known as the “crazy coat lady.” While attending a design activism course at the city’s College of Creative Studies, Scott received an assignment to create something that would “fill a need.” She didn’t have to look very far. “The big moment was seeing a playground 20 feet away from a [homeless] shelter, and this playground had been made into someone’s home,” she says. With this image in mind, Scott designed a winter coat that could convert into a sleeping bag to shield the homeless from bitter Michigan winters. But when she took the prototype to the shelter, the people she hoped to help were disappointed. “We don’t need coats,” Scott recalls one woman telling her. “We need jobs.”
Scott knew that if she wanted to truly help the homeless — more than 20,000 live in Detroit — she needed to rethink her business plan. So she created the Empowerment Plan, a nonprofit that aims to help homeless women build a better life for themselves. Through her organization, Scott hires women who live in shelters — mostly single mothers — and pays them to construct convertible coats, which are then given out to the homeless. Scott now employs 10 formerly homeless women, who are able to produce nearly 600 coats a month. She may be a “coat lady”, but her big idea? Not so crazy after all.