Skid Row Agency Back on Its Feet


Last spring, officials of LAMP, a skid row agency in Los Angeles, were laying off employees and closing prized programs.

The picture is much brighter now thanks to help from both the private and government sectors. The agency is operating in the black; many of the laid-off workers have been rehired; and plans are afoot for reviving the programs.

Chief among LAMP’s rescuers has been the California Community Foundation, which is giving the agency $200,000.


In the meantime, Mollie Lowery is back at LAMP’s helm, having committed herself to the executive director’s job for five years. She left the agency in 1994 to embark on a new life in Bishop, then returned as a consultant last year when LAMP’s financial problems reached the crisis stage.

“When I got fully involved in what was really happening here, I came to an understanding of some of the failures I, and others, had made in trying to transition out of here,” Lowery said.

In retrospect, Lowery said she realized that she had not left a solid foundation for LAMP to continue and “felt responsible” for that. So she decided to come back and remedy the situation.

Lowery rents an apartment locally but has retained her home in Bishop, as well as a stake in a construction business there. She intends to go back to the Sierra at the end of her stint.


Well-regarded for its work with the mentally ill homeless, LAMP faced a $100,000 deficit last spring, forcing it to lay off more than half of its employees and close several of its enterprises.

A coin laundry, convenience store, shower and toilet facilities serving skid row were shut, as well as a commercial linen service that employed people living in the village, LAMP’s 48-bed transitional residential facility.


The laundry, shower and toilet facilities were soon reopened. Although the money-losing linen service and store remain closed, the agency intends to restart the service and is hoping to find a way to reopen the convenience store.

Initially, the linen service will be underwritten by part of the California community grant. But the business is expected to break even under a full-time manager and a more aggressive marketing plan.

The California Community Foundation, an umbrella organization that distributes about $30 million annually to community-based groups, is doing more than writing checks to LAMP. Foundation President Jack Shakely has joined LAMP’s board, and the foundation has commissioned studies to suggest ways of increasing occupancy in LAMP’s two residential facilities, as well as to devise plans for getting the laundry on its financial feet.

“Jobs with dignity on skid row are so rare,” Shakely said, explaining why his organization came to LAMP’s aid.

Lowery said that along with the foundation grants, LAMP received help from the county in the form of additional service contracts and renegotiated fees, and from the city, which is giving the agency $800,000 over three years to serve more people at the village and help cover business costs.

“I think we came through well,” she said.