Metro Weekly

Friendship Place takes a nontraditional approach to helping homeless LGBTQ youth

Friendship Place's symposium, "Young, LGBTQ and Homeless," takes place on Wednesday, April 19

Homeless Youth — Photo via Wikipedia

Friendship Place is best known for its non-traditional approach to combating homelessness, something of which Jean-Michel Giraud is proud.

“Many people feel that in a traditional shelter setting, there is a barrier to employment, because you have to arrive by 7 p.m. and leave at 7 a.m.,” Giraud, the organization’s president and CEO, says. “We decided to pilot a model where we engage in very progressive, innovative shelter work, where people have keys to their own shelter, so they can go in and out on their own, take second- and third-shift jobs.

“That model caught on, because the people who run the shelters were seeing people leave within three to four months, with a job and a place to live. And meanwhile, while they were in the shelter, residents felt more trusted, fulfilled, and empowered.”

In addition to its progressive shelter model, Friendship Place offers a wide range of programs for people at risk of homelessness, including job placement assistance, veterans’ services, medical and psychiatric care, and its “Before 30” case management program for 17- to 29-year olds.

That last group will be the focus of Friendship Place’s annual education and advocacy symposium on April 19. Led by moderator and former Al-Jazeera and PBS Newshour host Ray Suarez, a panel of experts — including a formerly homeless youth — will delve into issues affecting homeless LGBTQ youth, including trafficking, survival sex, addiction, and family rejection.

According to Giraud, 43% of homeless youth in the District identify as LGBTQ — an outsized proportion, part of a trend that’s reflected nationwide.

“Young people are coming out earlier,” he says. “As a result, they’re finding themselves on the street earlier, if they come from families where they’re simply not wanted anymore once they’ve self-identified.”

Friendship Place’s annual Education and Advocacy Symposium, “Young, LGBTQ and Homeless,” takes place on Wednesday, April 19, from 6-8 p.m. at The George Washington University’s Jack Morton Auditorium, 805 21st St. NW. For more information, visit friendshipplace.org.

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com