In the weeks leading up to their spring symposium, the staff at Friendship Place, a Northwest-based housing provider, wants to expand the conversation about housing instability so that elected officials, and other involved parties, prioritize immediate job placement as an element in the fight to end homelessness.
Whereas homeless clients receive vocational training from the onset, the model that Friendship Place CEO Jean-Michel Giraud espouses provides steady employment for people at the beginning of their housing journey with professional development opportunities that can increase earning potential.
“Jobs are going to be the key to ending homelessness, especially for those not eligible for permanent supportive housing. The whole sector should look at that more closely,” Giraud said.
During a March 1 public oversight hearing held by the D.C. Council Committee on Human Services, Giraud made known his perspective, saying that placing jobs at the forefront of the homelessness-prevention strategy will help bring Homeward DC, the Bowser administration’s five-year plan to end homelessness of which he has been an ardent supporter, closer to its goals.
“Training and time-consuming professional development belong to someone who’s housed,” Giraud said. “People who are in homelessness need housing now. We focus on jobs that are in the range that gets the person closer to what’s livable. That’s how we don’t set people up to fail.”
During Friendship Place’s Spring Symposium on the evening of April 2, Ray Suarez of NPR will moderate a conversation with D.C. Department of Human Services Laura Zeilinger, DC Interagency Council on Homelessness Kristy Greenwalt and others about the progress of Homeward DC, now in its fourth year.
Greenwalt also counted those who testified before the D.C. Council Committee on Human Services earlier this month, touting a 38-percent reduction in family homelessness over the last two years.
In 2018, 1,300 families left the shelter system, ad 2,500 families received an emergency housing stipend. Though 4,800 single adults overcame homelessness, the annual point-in-time count for the local homeless population didn’t budge, Greenwalt told council members, highlighting the need for redevelopment of the 801 East Men’s Shelter in Southeast.
Within the past year, Friendship Place has served more than 3,700 homeless people — including the disabled, returning citizens, former foster youth, members of the LGBTQ community, and families through a shared-living system where District landlords divide houses and apartments into individual units so that each participant gets a lease for their living space.
Giraud said he wants to expand those efforts by meeting a fundraising goal of $2.6 million that allows staff to support clients not eligible for public funds, particularly those who struggle to secure employment in the District.
Through Friendship Place’s AimHire program, participants receive a job within 90 days. Employment, in tandem with affordable housing, provides the confidence boost needed to navigate life in the District, said Alan Banks, a Friendship Place community engagement associate of nearly seven years and onetime client.
“We believe that everyone has employable skills right now. We get someone working as soon as possible, then we assist them if they want to work in another field,” Banks said.
Upon entering Friendship Place in 2010, Banks volunteered in its development office. He parlayed that opportunity into a part-time job, which currently supplements his social security disability income and helps him manage the clinical depression that brought his life to a screeching halt 16 years ago.
“People are starting to catch on this model,” said Banks, a community engagement associate at Friendship Place. “At one time, we tried to fit a person into a mold. That doesn’t work for everyone. Getting them working right away helps people with their mental well-being and opens all other aspects.”