The following tribute to George Siletti appeared in the program for the 12th Annual Benjamin E. Cooper Awards Celebration in 2009, where George was honored with the Community Outreach Award.
When George Siletti first connected with Friendship Place in May 2003, he had been homeless, off and on, all his life. After a childhood of bouncing around foster homes in New York, George set out on his own at the age of 16. He traveled all over the country, taking whatever jobs he could get without a high school diploma ― construction, warehouses, day labor ― but he found it difficult to earn enough to afford housing. At one time he had a job he found especially fulfilling ― teaching life skills to mentally ill patients at Johns Hopkins Bayview Hospital ― but he was working for minimum wage with no benefits, so he took to the streets again.
Eventually, George made his way to D.C., where he was introduced to the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH). He joined the NCH Speakers Bureau and found he had a gift for public speaking. However, he was still without a place to call home ― until NCH referred him to Friendship Place.
In 2004, George moved into an apartment with Friendship Place’s housing partner Anne Frank House, Inc. Within months of moving in, George turned his attention toward giving back to the community that he had become part of. He told his story at our first annual Friends & Neighbors Breakfast in 2005 and became a founding member of the Friendship Place Speakers Bureau. Since then, he has opened the hearts and minds of thousands of people, through countless speaking engagements at congregations, schools, businesses, and community groups.
In 2006, George became a founding member of the Friendship Place Consumer Council. As the Council’s president, he researched and developed a questionnaire to survey Friendship Place’s consumers, and collaborated with our executive director to implement enhancements to our services.
Finally, George visits our drop-in center regularly, where he generously offers encouragement to people who are still living on the streets. “He’s extremely sensitive and intuitive with people who have no support systems other than Friendship Place,” says case manager Patti Piller. “He goes out of his way to make them comfortable, to ask how they’re doing, to tell them about services. And, he encourages them to get involved in Friendship Place.”
“George is one of those exceptional people who has overcome tremendous hardship with the strength of his wonderful spirit,” says Friendship Place Executive Director Jean-Michel Giraud. “And now he’s doing everything he can to help us reach out to other people who are still suffering. He’s an inspiration to all of us.”