In July 1976, two Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, together with a few volunteers, began providing advocacy and referrals and assisting families with such basic needs as food, clothing, and job readiness on Rose Avenue in Venice. Services were offered without regard for religious affiliation and religious instruction was neither required nor provided. From the very beginning, the Sisters saw their task as renewing hope in all people and empowering them to take steps to heal their lives.
Working with low-income families and individuals was the initial thrust of St. Joseph Center, however the Sisters soon recognized the growing number of homeless individuals who came into the area in the early 1980s and expanded their service by leasing a nearby facility that eventually became the Homeless Service Center. In 1986 the Sisters stepped down from leadership and St. Joseph Center became a separately incorporated non-profit 501(c)(3) organization.
Growth & Development
St. Joseph Center grew strategically for the next 20 years, adding programs and services in response to the needs of the community. During these years the agency purchased a building in Venice to create Bread and Roses Café, one of the first programs in the nation to offer a sit-down, table-service hot meal for homeless individuals. It remains the only non-shelter hot meal program on the Los Angeles’s Westside and serves 150 meals a day in a pleasant, dignified atmosphere. The Culinary Training Program, initiated in the same period, provides chronically un/under-employed adults with the skills needed to secure employment in the food service industry. Externships at prominent local restaurants give students critical experience and 75% of graduates find permanent jobs each year.
In the early 2000s the agency raised funds to build a new state-of-the-art facility in Venice that could serve as a springboard to expanded services for people in need. Since this building opened in 2008, St. Joseph Center’s growth has accelerated dramatically. In the five years from 2012 to 2015 its budget and its number of programs both more than doubled.
Today & Tomorrow
St. Joseph Center is now a multifaceted organization serving 7,000 people, employing nearly 200 paid staff, and benefiting from the dedication of approximately 400 regular volunteers annually. It is a leader on Los Angeles’s Westside, where it heads the Coordinated Entry Systems for Individuals and for Families, which aim to end homelessness in the region. It is also a growing presence in the historically underserved communities of South Los Angeles, where it recently opened the Broadway Manchester Service Center.
Even a cursory reading of the Center’s programs gives one a sense of the evolution of services that has occurred since its humble beginnings. The agency offers comprehensive services in the areas of Outreach & Engagement, Housing, Mental Health, and Education & Vocational Training. Utilizing case management as one of its core competencies both within and across programs, the agency has grown exponentially as service needs have increased. At the same time, programs developed by the agency are so integrally related and supportive one to the other that they form a seamless continuum of service.
Hope is embedded in St. Joseph Center’s DNA. The agency looks forward to a time when its services are no longer required, but until that day arrives, the Center’s staff, board, and volunteers remain committed to caring for the community’s most vulnerable members with dignity, compassion and respect.