All are welcome at Friendship Place, whatever their needs

Maisha Pinkard is the Welcome Center division director at Friendship Place, a charity in Northwest D.C. that helps people escape homelessness.
Maisha Pinkard is the Welcome Center division director at Friendship Place, a charity in Northwest D.C. that helps people escape homelessness. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)

A welcome center wouldn’t be very welcoming if it didn’t welcome people with all sorts of needs. And all sorts of needs are what await Maisha Pinkard every day.

Pinkard runs the Friendship Place Welcome Center at 4713 Wisconsin Ave. NW. It’s a resource for people experiencing homelessness, who can drop in to do a load of laundry, pick up hygiene products or use the center as a mailing address for letters and benefits checks.

On this particular morning, three of the visitors have specific issues.

A man whose bundled possessions are stacked on the porch of the center wonders whether he can have some tape. A woman wants to know where the nearest hair salon is. Another man has arrived four hours early for an apartment-hunting trip with Pinkard.

Why tape?

“I don’t know what he wanted the tape for,” Pinkard says. “And that’s okay. I had it.”

The hair salon?

“She wants to get her hair dyed,” Pinkard says. “I asked her to go up to — I think it’s Supercuts — and find out how much it would be.”

The apartment hunter?

“He’s been experiencing homelessness for a long time,” Pinkard says.

He finally qualified for a housing voucher that can be applied toward rent. With the help of Friendship Place, he is on the cusp of moving off the streets.

Even seemingly random requests — tape, a dye job — are met with kindness.

“If I were to say, ‘Don’t ask me that,’ that would be a wall,” Pinkard says. “These are regulars, people that we build rapport with. We are very creative with how we try to help folks: Different things work for different people. The tape could lead to us at some point helping him get housing, you know?”

As for the hair salon, “We know that presentation is such a big thing,” Pinkard says. “Even though a person may be experiencing literal homelessness, we all have some type of standard for ourselves. So even though I’m sleeping outside or in my vehicle, I need to look put together.”

Adds Pinkard: “There’s also this stigma with folks who are experiencing homelessness. If you look a certain way, you may be treated very differently.”

When a veteran struggled with homelessness, Friendship Place offered help

Pinkard, 38, went to Bethesda Chevy Chase High School, then earned degrees in counseling at Hampton University. She always knew that she wanted to help people. She started her career as a school counselor before coming to Friendship Place in 2013.

“Everybody should have their basic needs met,” she says.

That’s what Friendship Place works toward. The Welcome Center is open Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Monday mornings, representatives from Unity Health Care are on hand to see to visitors’ medical needs.

The long-term aim for the clients — or “participants,” as Pinkard calls them — is to find stable housing, such as with this morning’s apartment-hunter.

“There’ve been different barriers we’ve experienced,” Pinkard says. “The main one is he didn’t have his vital papers.”

That’s not uncommon among people who don’t have a home. A week earlier, Pinkard had driven with the man to a county office in Capitol Heights to help get a copy of his birth certificate. Then they went to the Department of Motor Vehicles in Georgetown.

“For you to be able to apply for an apartment, you need an ID card,” Pinkard says.

Government-issued ID in hand, they went to Marshalls department store.

“We talked about how when we go out and look for places, we have to make sure we present in a certain way,” Pinkard says.

They bought an apartment-hunting outfit that Pinkard has been keeping for him at the Welcome Center. On this morning, Pinkard says, “We were supposed to meet at 1. He got here at 9. I was very proud of him.”

Another Friendship Place staffer has accompanied the man to the nearby St. Columba’s Episcopal Church, which operates a “water ministry” where homeless neighbors can use shower facilities.

Then the man will change into his nice new clothes. He and Pinkard will visit apartment buildings. Soon, this Friendship Place participant will have a roof over his head.

Friendship Place is a partner in The Washington Post Helping Hand, our annual fundraising drive. To support its work with a donation, visit posthelpinghand.com.

To give by mail, send a check to Friendship Place, 3655 Calvert St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20007.

Twitter: @johnkelly

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