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Testimony of Jean-Michel Giraud before the District of Columbia Committee on Human Services on DHS Oversight

Good morning, Chairperson Silverman and Members of the Committee and thank you for giving me the opportunity to testify; I am Jean-Michel Giraud, the President & CEO of Friendship Place.

Friendship Place is the premier regional homeless-services provider, serving over 3,700 persons experiencing homelessness in the greater DC region. We have a wide range of supportive programs including on-site permanent supportive housing at La Casa (PSH) and scattered-site in our Neighbors First programs, street outreach, family short-term housing at The Brooks, drop-in and hospitality, psychiatric and medical consultations, 24-hour access shelter, rapid rehousing for veterans, youth case management and job placement services at AimHire.

Friendship Place provides job placement services because jobs are key to ending homelessness. As Director Greenwalt stated at the DHS oversight hearing on Monday, many individuals experiencing homelessness are looking to work and would prefer a self-sustaining job over government support. As an organization providing both housing and employment services for many years, we would like to raise a few questions for the Committee’s consideration.

  • First, could DOES be more open to job placement practices with proven outcomes?

AimHire, our job placement program, uses a Job First model to help people get jobs based on their current skills, rather than requiring time-consuming initial training. We assume employability, meeting individuals where they are and fostering self-reliance through job acquisition. This approach is solutions-driven, outcomes-oriented, and does not foster dependency by letting people fall to the most supportive layers of the system.

Job First has a high rate of success, is cost-effective and focuses on the outcome: the job. The average cost for job placement per individual is $3,500. We encourage the committee to look closely at DOES programs to assess their effectiveness based on the actual desired outcome —employment, rather than the easier output of job training. Our pandemic recovery is the perfect time to pilot a new model in DC that could be emulated elsewhere in the country. So, what is it going to take to make Washington a job-first city?

  • Second, how can we help more individuals find jobs to reduce the risk of homelessness?

As the pandemic lessens and businesses begin to open, DOES will need to find jobs for many more unemployed individuals. The population experiencing homelessness includes youth, many of whom are LGBTQ+, seeking entry-level jobs. Yet the average age in the homeless system in DC is 55. Both groups would benefit from finding jobs sooner rather than later, making the need for job-first services even more obvious.

Some organizations argue that many job seekers in the homeless services system only obtain minimum-wage jobs which do not provide enough income to rent an apartment in DC. Recognizing housing affordability as a challenge, the system needs to build up housing supports by helping people locate or create shared living situations.

  • Third, how is DOES building relationships with employers, in both the private and public sectors?

Providers need to develop relationships with employers to help them discover the unique assets of potential employees and remove any residual discrimination against individuals experiencing homelessness, including LGBTQ+ and racial discrimination. We find that job placement is better suited to salesman-type providers than social workers. Additionally, District leadership needs to focus on job creation in the city and the region at large. We need to create jobs to match the existing skills sets of our residents. We cannot just let the job market drive the process.

  • Last, can you help DOES and DHS work more closely together so that our residents have access to all the resources they need?

Currently, housing and employment are siloed into DHS and DOES, respectively. To get jobs, individuals experiencing homelessness need to overcome barriers. A seamless, person-centered approach blending services from each department would be more effective. Ending homelessness in DC requires resources to stretch across these two government departments in a productive collaboration.

We would like to be of service to DOES and DHS in finding the answers to these questions. We appreciate the arduous work and flexibility that DOES and DHS have exhibited in handling the pandemic emergency. We look forward to continuing to work together to end homelessness. Thank you.

Your Donation Helps End Homelessness!

Your support for Friendship Place has a lasting impact. In 2020, our programs ended or prevented homelessness for 2,664 people, including 606 children in families and 661 veterans. We empowered 200 people experiencing or at risk of homelessness to get jobs through innovative, state-of-the-art job placement services. Friendship Place's programs collectively served a total of 3,432 people in 2020. Make a donation today in support of our work to end homelessness. Questions? Please feel free to call our fundraising office, 202.503.2970.

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