Hardship and deprivation, they say, will make you grow up fast. But when you think about it, they can keep you from growing up at all. If your life’s been a struggle since childhood — if the grown-ups around you are beset with their own problems — how ready will you be when the calendar turns and you magically become an “adult?”
The answer is: not very.
That’s why the District charity Friendship Place has a program called Before Thirty. It serves participants between 17 and 30 who are experiencing homelessness or are in danger of falling into it. It does some of its most important work with people in their mid-20s.
These are people like 25-year-old Christian.
“I kind of lost my stability at 16,” said Christian, who asked that I not use his last name. That’s when he and his mother had to leave an apartment in what he called a dangerous neighborhood in Northeast.
“I remember at 16 waking up and seeing somebody get shot right outside my window,” he said.
Things didn’t get much easier after they moved to District Heights.
“Long story short, I lost my job, got put out of there, and that’s when I became homeless,” Christian said.
Since 2017, he’s been house-hopping and couch-surfing. Most recently, he’s been living in his car. Last year, Christian connected with Friendship Place and with Scarlet Levy, who works with participants in Before Thirty.
There are many supports for people experiencing homelessness in the District, programs that usher them into shelters, temporary transitional housing or permanent supportive housing. The system, said Levy, is somewhat more forgiving for people 24 and under.
At 25, things become a little more sink-or-swim. There’s more competition for housing programs and for housing. That’s where Before Thirty comes in.
“The goal is that people can come into this program after aging out of the youth program,” Levy said. “That really just helps them kick-start their adult lives, basically.”
Levy is working with eight Before Thirty participants. They have various goals. Some of her clients want to go to school full-time. Some want to start certification programs to land better jobs. Some have asked for help finding mental health therapists. Learning financial literacy skills is something from which all can benefit.
One young man needed furniture after finally finding housing. Levy connected him with A Wider Circle, a Silver Spring-based charity that offers free furnishings. She helped guide him through a process many of us would take for granted: making appointments, scheduling a moving company, picking out furniture. When the time came, Friendship Place paid for the movers.
“It’s a divided workload,” Levy said. “I said, ‘I’m going to help you, but you need to spearhead the efforts.’”
Added Levy: “The program is built so if they put in the energy and they put in the interest, we’re able to really help them with things.”
Christian’s main goal is finding stable housing and getting out of his car. He works full-time unloading baggage from jets at Reagan National Airport. It’s hard work that pays $15.79 an hour.
Levy has helped Christian make strides in repairing his broken credit. Working from Friendship Place’s Welcome Center on Wisconsin Avenue NW, she offers more tangible help, too.
“She’s always been there,” said Christian, who has been visiting the center for the past few months. “She’s made sure I have something to eat and is always checking up on me. She’s helped me with certain necessities I need, like blankets and pillows. Overall, she’s been very resourceful and helpful.”
Levy said young people experiencing homelessness often don’t know where to turn for help. They can be easily discouraged, too. Experience has primed them to expect the worst. They sometimes jettison their goals, thinking they’re unattainable.
“What I’m providing is the confidence that they can figure stuff out on their own,” she said.
This is the last column I’ll write this year about Friendship Place, a partner in The Washington Post Helping Hand. Our campaign ends on Friday.
Before then, I hope you’ll support the work that Friendship Place does for people like Christian. To give online by credit card, visit posthelpinghand.com. To donate by mail, send a check to Friendship Place, 3655 Calvert St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20007.