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Our History

"What does the future hold? As long as women and girls have special needs and concerns; as long as the leadership recognizes and dedicates itself to meeting these needs; as long as the community looks to the YWCA to provide programs and services, and until women are equal partners with men and all people are treated with dignity, there will be a need for the YWCA in San Diego County, in the United States, and in the world."

-Mary McCarroll, YWCA Executive Director, 1982

The formative years of the San Diego YWCA coincided with the Progressive Era (c. 1905-1920), and we reflected the aims of the Progressive movement, including political reform, women's suffrage, improvement of labor conditions and consumer protection.

When the YWCA was founded in 1908, San Diego was undergoing one of its periodic recessions with a population of 30,000 - far below that of Los Angeles (more than 300,000) and San Francisco (more than 400,000). In the San Diego of 1908, wages for women were low and 'unattached' women were unwelcome in hotels and restaurants. There were no recreation centers for women, no adult education classes, and no employment bureau. Within a year of its founding, the YWCA provided all of these services and grew into a 500-member organization.

The YWCA grew out of concern for the problems young women were facing such as housing, food, employment and health. A report from the Depression Era reflects the difficulties that many women faced during this time: "....a policeman brought in a poorly dressed young woman he had found sleeping on a bench in the park. She said she had gone to Los Angeles to visit her mother. When she returned home to her rented room, she found that her husband had left, taking their few possessions with him. She was completely without funds and without employment, exhausted, and in tears. Arrangements were made for her to stay at the YWCA."

During World War I, in order to meet the needs of servicemen, the YWCA built a recreation center at the northwest corner of 11th and C. The recreation center had a swimming pool, gymnasium, and club rooms where sailors could enjoy recreational activities during their free time. After World War I, and with the help of a bequest from Capt. Benjamin Frees, the YWCA purchased the remainder of the block on C Street and launched a campaign to build a permanent home. Ellen Browning Scripps, a retired newswoman and philanthropist, was the second largest contributor to this campaign. The YWCA building was designed by Frank Stevenson and C.E. Decker in 1926 and reflected the Spanish Renaissance architectural theme made popular by the Panama-California Exposition.

During World War II the YWCA served Navy personnel and defense workers, their wives and children. The YWCA's Information Services were on duty 24 hours a day and a Room Registry was organized to help people find places to stay. During the postwar era, the YWCA organized outreach programs, established recreational programs for teenagers, and offered an array of health and physical activities.

The long-term goal of the YWCA has been leadership development and empowerment for women and girls. In 1978, the YWCA of San Diego County established their first comprehensive domestic violence program, Battered Women's Services. Programs and services were designed to aid physically and emotionally abused women and their children by providing access to personal and community resources.

 Woman In Service

Woman In Service

Throughout the 1980s, the YWCA of San Diego continued to aid women in crisis situations by providing shelter for homeless women and their children. The Passages program was created in 1982 to help single homeless women gain employment and housing. This is the first program to focus on the mental well being of women. The 1990s marked another milestone for the YWCA with the development of the transitional housing component of our domestic violence program, called Becky’s House®. Becky's House® began when Dr. Barbara DeAngelis received a call from "Becky" on the Jeff and Jer Showgram, a popular, San Diego-based morning radio show, in January 1999. Becky was trapped in an abusive relationship and was afraid for her life. Becky told Jeff, Jer and thousands of San Diego listeners that she had three days to find shelter while her boyfriend was out of town. The problem was that she had no job, no money and nowhere to go. It was at that moment that STAR listeners began to make pledges to help Becky escape her abusive situation. During the next 24 hours, the community donated a tremendous sum of $43,000 to help Becky and her son begin a new life. It was this incredible generosity that encouraged the YWCA of San Diego and STAR 100.7 FM to build a transitional housing facility for other women who found themselves in similar situations.

The YWCA of San Diego County recognized that, by the mid-1990s, the population of homeless persons in San Diego was changing. Formerly comprised mostly of single males, the new homeless population was made up increasingly of families. Because few downtown shelters had the capacity to address the needs of the growing number of homeless families, the YWCA partnered with the City of San Diego to address this need. As a temporary solution the YWCA, with funding from a grant provided by the City of San Diego, opened the Cortez Hill Family Center in a renovated retail store in 2001. This transitional housing community was designed to provide homeless families with temporary shelter while YWCA staff and our partner agencies worked with them to address the issues that caused their homelessness and develop solutions to overcome their barriers to employment and stable housing.

To develop a permanent solution to addressing the needs of homeless families, the YWCA, the City of San Diego, and the Centre City Development Corporation purchased a vacant hotel in downtown San Diego and began a renovation project to provide additional beds and services to homeless families. The renovation of this facility took an entire year, but by December 2002 one hundred and fifty homeless parents and their children had found safety and comprehensive social services at the Cortez Hill Family Center. In March 2003, the San Diego Mediation Center awarded its annual “Peacemaker” award to the City of San Diego’s Community and Economic Development Department, the Centre City Development Corporation and the YWCA of San Diego County for their efforts in developing this $5 million Cortez Hill Family Center project.

The City of San Diego, the Centre City Development Corporation, and the YWCA recently completed an expansion of the Cortez Hill Family Center in order to serve more clients by adding additional units, and creating a computer lab, multi-purpose training rooms, administrative offices, a play area for children and a kitchen and dining area.

Today, the YWCA operates three residential programs that have approximately 300 people in residence on any given day. More than 60% of the residents are children. The Becky's House® Emergency Shelter and Becky's House®18-month transitional housing program provide shelter and a continuum of supportive services to women and children who have been victimized by domestic violence. In addition, the agency operates Passages, a two-year supportive living program, which provides single women with the resources necessary to complete the transition from homelessness to independent living. The YWCA also operates the Cortez Hill Family Center, a 120-day case managed transitional housing program that provides a continuum of services to homeless families. On October 11, 2007, Mayor Jerry Sanders, along with a host of local dignitaries, celebrated the opening of Becky's House® 2. Becky's House® 2 provides an additional 55 transitional housing beds for victims of domestic violence and their children.

More than 70% of the individuals served by the YWCA of San Diego County are successful in obtaining employment and stable housing, and maintaining a self-sufficient lifestyle. The YWCA continues to be at the forefront of providing services and programs that respond to the needs of women and families.


24 hour emergency hotline: 619.234.3164