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Creating a Safe Space: Meet Amy Turk

Residence Photos

On any given day at the Downtown Women’s Center (DWC), women of all backgrounds and experiences fill the Day Center by the dozen. From the moment the doors open at 6 AM, staff members and participants alike mingle in the bustling community space, chatting and laughing with coffee in hand. And for DWC Chief Programs Officer Amy Turk, there’s only one way to start her day off right.

Amy Turk, MSW“I think every morning I walk through the Day Center doors and have a conversation with someone who’s come here for services," she says, "and it helps me remember why we’re doing this work.”

Being in a “helping profession” has always been a priority for Amy. It’s plain to see from her background volunteering at domestic violence shelters in high school and at Daybreak (a program of Santa Monica social services agency Ocean Park Community Center [OPCC]) in college, that she discovered a passion for working with women early in her life.

“I remember the first time I sat down with a woman who was living in [a] shelter,” Amy recalls. “I had miraculously just cooked a meal for 15 women, and that was a really big accomplishment for me at age 19! But what was more inspiring was listening to her story and without [me] even asking her what her story was, she told me.”

It was a moment that stuck with her. Impressed with the woman’s transparency and resilience, Amy began to tailor her education to understand societal pressures and related issues that can contribute to causing homelessness.

“When I looked around the dining tables that night I was just floored by how much diversity there was in the room,” she says. “People from different countries, people of all ages, women who had PhDs and Master’s degrees and careers and marriages... I was just really floored.”

With a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology, Amy was hired at OPCC in 2001 as night staff. She moved through various roles until she eventually became OPCC’s Director of Daybreak Services for Homeless Women. By the time she left the organization, she had received her Master’s degree in Social Work from California State University, Los Angeles, and had more than 12 years of experience working with adult women experiencing homelessness and mental illness.

Amy Turk CPO Downtown Women's Center

Above left: This June, Amy visited Capitol Hill with Change AGEnts Policy Institute participants to advocate for more resources for homeless women.
Above right: Amy laughs with a DWC participant before the 2014 HomeWalk with United Way.

Since coming to DWC in January 2013 to oversee the Center’s various programs and services, Amy has played a major role in strengthening partnerships, expanding services, and advocating for women experiencing homelessness. Amy was instrumental in launching the 1-in-4 National Convenings on Women's Homelessness, the first ever national conference bringing together similar programs to discuss best practices, research, and advocacy.

“There’s a huge need to continue to raise awareness about the women that we work with,” Amy says. “Housing is a right, everyone absolutely deserves a home. Everyone also deserves a voice. Helping build that voice through our 1-in-4 movement is one of the most exciting aspects of our work right now.”

"Housing is a right, everyone absolutely deserves a home. Everyone also deserves a voice."

1-in-4 LA Summer 2015 Conference

Above: Amy leads a discussion on Best Practices at this summer's 1-in-4 Regional Convening at DWC.

Even as she’s helping with the planning for the second annual 1-in-4 National Convening next year, Amy is ever-grounded in her work at DWC. “I really enjoy that my office is in the milieu, in the mix where are the programs are and the women are,” she remarks. Anyone could observe from Amy’s day-to-day that her office is more than just a place for her to work; it’s a safe space where participants and staff alike know they are seen, heard, and welcomed.

Amy is taking up interim leadership during DWC’s next chapter with the support of Chief Development Officer Brooke Lykins and Chief Financial Officer Rafe Pery.

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