“Danielle and Maisha introduced me to a new way of living,” says Gregory, who has spent years living on the streets of Washington.
“Union Station, the White House, 300 Indiana Avenue,” he says, reeling off the places he’s slept. “Metro stations, group homes, substance abuse programs. I slept at jobs I had. I slept in cars that I had.”
On this December morning — six days before his 36th birthday — Gregory is getting the keys to a new apartment thanks to help from the nonprofit Friendship Place and two of its employees: Danielle Ambrose, Gregory’s case manager, and Maisha Pinkard, who oversees the charity’s welcome center.
“Maisha is so fast,” Gregory says. “She's so brilliant. She works so hard. She's determined to get everybody off the street. She's my hero. She got me off the streets.”
Gregory has traveled a rough road to get to this studio apartment in Ward 3. His mother died when he was 14. He spent some of his teen years in foster care. He has confronted mental illness. He has been a victim of identity theft. (I’m using just his first name to spare him any more possible complications.)
Friendship Place has been working with him to navigate the system by which vulnerable, needy and chronically homeless people find housing. In Gregory’s case, that started with completing what’s called the Vulnerability Index-Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool. The VI-SPDAT helps determine whether someone qualifies for permanent supportive housing of the sort Gregory has just found.
Funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, by way of the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness, will pay the bulk of Gregory’s rent. He will contribute 30 percent of his income — from his benefits and, if he gets one, a job — to the rent.
The agencies also provide some of the funding to turn Gregory’s new apartment into a home.
“Danielle picked out your favorite color,” Pinkard says. An aqua tone is everywhere, from the cutlery handles to the soap dish.
“Did you see the microwave?” Pinkard asks.
The box holding the tiny microwave says it is “Bebop Blue.”
“That is nice,” Gregory says.
Gregory is one of a dozen clients Ambrose counsels at Friendship Place, where she has worked for a year. Ushering them into housing is her main goal. Along the way, she helps them however she can.
When Gregory had satisfied all the requirements for permanent supportive housing, Pinkard and Ambrose helped in his search for an apartment.
“He had a very simple wish list,” Ambrose says. “He wanted to stay in this area, close to the welcome center.”
It’s a 20-minute walk away, on Wisconsin Avenue NW.
Today’s move-in doesn’t mean Ambrose’s time with Gregory has come to an end.
“He told us: ‘I’m going to need help,’ ” she says. “This is all brand new for him. I’m helping him to sustain on his own.”
That means working with Gregory on budgeting and on scheduling his various appointments, from when to go to the doctor to when to clean his apartment.
“He's been asking for a chore chart,” Ambrose says.
Gregory’s bed will arrive the next day. For now, there’s a blowup mattress that needs inflating. Someone at Ambrose’s church has donated a TV set that she’ll pick up over the weekend.
Gregory walks into the bathroom, takes a shower, then slips a black Adidas sweatshirt, its sleeves striped in white, and a pair of black sweatpants over his thin frame. Now he’s as clean as his new place.
“Gregory has an apartment,” Pinkard says, surveying the room.
“I’m safe,” Gregory says. “Danielle and Maisha introduced me to a new way of living.”
You don’t need the whole gigantic world in your corner.
Friendship Place is a partner in The Washington Post Helping Hand. Through its permanent supportive housing program, 845 people — 496 adults and 349 children — receive housing and such services as access to medical care.
You can be in their corner. To support Friendship Place with a donation, visit posthelpinghand.com and click where it says “Donate.”
To give by mail, send a check to Friendship Place, 3655 Calvert St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20007.
Read more from John Kelly.