‘Volunteers Help Homeless Aim Higher’
Originally published in Street Sense
Written by Morgan Austin, Street Sense Editorial Intern
For the past 23 years, a nonprofit called Friendship Place has been working to defeat homelessness, one man and woman at a time.
The program started in 1991 as a simple resource center on Wisconsin Avenue NW, where people experiencing homelessness knew they were welcome to stop in for a cup of coffee, a sandwich or a chat with a caseworker. Over the next two decades, Friendship Place evolved to offer more assistance, from street outreach to free medical and psychiatric care to case management.
The organization has built relationships with landlords and helped find housing for dozens of clients. Now, an effort to find jobs for homeless people has reached an important milestone. Friendship Place’s AimHire program is celebrating its 200th job placement.
AimHire owes much of its success to the work of 15 dedicated volunteers who gather daily to find ways to help. Their efforts include assisting homeless men and women to build their resumes, develop their skills and prepare and dress for job interviews.
They don’t stop there. They also work to find additional ways to make clients feel supported, aiding with financial literacy and helping them reconnect with their families.
The goal of AimHire is to ensure that every person who walks into the doors of Friendship Place can leave with a job.
Brian Fleming, one of AimHire’s clients, credits the program with making a real difference in his life. “What I think was most important is that I had people who were on my side,” Fleming said. “This became a place for me to come and feel welcome.”
Originally from the Bronx, NY, Fleming made his way to the District in hopes of turning his life around. He says his belief in God helped him find his way. He was referred to the AimHire program by a minister from the New Community Church. “Thank God I had faith,” Fleming said.
With the help of AimHire, Fleming landed a job that allows him to help other people move beyond poverty and homelessness. He works as a residential assistant at a housing facility operated by another city nonprofit: So Others Might Eat (SOME).
AimHire Program Director Jermaine Hampton said the mission of the AimHire team is to help men and women experiencing homelessness envision new lives for themselves, creating goals and figuring out how to reach them by preparing for the workplace. The team also encourages employers to give homeless people an opportunity to prove themselves, to accept their applications and resumes and find them jobs where they can use their talents.
“The hope is they will sit down and talk with them and look at them for their skills, how they interview, what they can bring to the table, and overlook their background and give them a second chance,” Hampton said.
Welcome Center Director Laura Woody added, “We find ways to say ‘yes.’”
AimHire has not always had an easy time. At first, for example, the program did not have a lot of success finding employment opportunities for its clients. Developing relationships with employers helped, staffers say. Finding the appropriate job training to help match clients with employers seeking specific skills has also proven challenging at times.
As for Brian Fleming, he said the city of Washington, and its citizens experiencing homelessness, would benefit from more programs such as AimHire. “Thank God they have programs like this,” he said. “They do a great service for the community and society, and it’s critical they have more programs like this.”