Clothing company Povertees offers its employees a path from Skid Row to easy street, hiring people transitioning out of homelessness.

It’s the idea of Chief Executive Tyler Patterson, a longtime volunteer for homeless causes who decided to use his business to give a first step on the employment ladder to those most in need of a break.

“We don’t want people and companies to simply donate money as if we were a charity,” said Patterson, 26. “We want them to provide us with orders, so we can provide homeless people with opportunities to work.”

The Highland Park firm, formed in 2013, makes T-shirts with hand-sewn pocket squares and sells them online at an average price of $25. The company generally receives orders of between 250 to 500 shirts a month, he said.

Patterson rotates employees in various positions so they will have experience in administrative work, manufacturing, sales, and customer service, which can help them go on to find other jobs.

The business operates from a rented house and has only three full-time employees; previously homeless people are hired on an as-needed, part-time basis when orders come in.

Povertees has partnered with L.A.’s Downtown Women’s Center, which recommends candidates for employment, including two hired last month to work between 20 and 30 hours a week.

One employee is Dana Wenzel, 48, who joined the company last week. The firm said she wasn’t comfortable being interviewed, but said Wenzel would handle production, sales, and online orders, working from 25 to 30 hours a week and earning $10 an hour.

Patterson said his company hires mostly women because they face higher risks of violence and assault while living on the streets. 

“This provides a supportive space away from the threat of violence,” he said. “People transitioning out of homelessness get to work in an environment that is very comfortable and understanding of their situation.”

– Olga Grigoryants

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