DEEGAN ON LA-Lost in the landscape of the homeless people we see across the city are youth experiencing homelessness, struggling to survive.
They are out there, just like homeless adults, but they have a different sort of pedigree: many are “survivors” of the juvenile justice system or have been aged out of the foster care system. Parental neglect and abuse have also driven many young people into homelessness.
Nearly 4,000 homeless youth are on the streets of Los Angeles, according to the most recent Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority (LAHSA) homeless count.
They come into their new world of “independence” still dependent on others to help them with the basics that most non-homeless young people have already received from their families and their progression through school: food and shelter, socialization skills, job training and placement, as well as an education.
Many of these wanderers who are educated in the “school of life” find resources tailored just for them at My Friend’s Place in Hollywood. Here, dozens of youth experiencing homelessness drop in every day to access the core free offerings that include the social services triumvirate of Health and Wellbeing, Safe Haven, and Transformative Education programs. For these clients, that translates into case management, legal, medical and mental health referrals, meals and showers, creative arts workshops, educational assistance and help with employment.
My Friend’s Place serves 1,400 individuals a year and is a member agency of Hollywood Homeless Youth Partnership that calls itself “a collection of preeminent experts on the issues of youth homelessness in Los Angeles, the current homeless capital of America.” As service providers, the Partnership agencies “work to achieve best practices in service delivery with the goal of strengthening interventions to help homeless youth exit the streets, overcoming the traumatic experiences at the core of their homelessness.”
How does this work? According to Heather Carmichael, Executive Director of My Friend’s Place, (photo, left) “Working with the leading social services providers and educational institutions in the region as well as over 400 volunteers, My Friend’s Place offers a free and comprehensive continuum of care that combines emergency necessities with therapeutic, health, employment and education assistance, and creative arts services through three programmatic areas.”
The professionally staffed drop-in Resource Center has in its mission statement the goal of “lowering the traditional barriers to service and providing homeless youth with the opportunity to improve their psychological, intellectual and physical capacity to reach their potential.”
Carmichael has been doing this type of work for over 23 years as a Licensed Clinical Social worker helping at-risk and high-risk youth, and working at My Friend’s Place for 17 years where she has helped grow the organization to be one of the largest comprehensive service centers in Los Angeles for youth experiencing homelessness.
The composition of this mostly invisible homeless youth population can be eye-opening: My Friend’s Place serves homeless youth ages 12 to 25 and their children. That’s right -- their children -- a mostly under-acknowledged population that is homeless, just like the more familiar populations that are segmented into homeless male adults, homeless women with children, and homeless veterans.
Any entry barrier that could be created by the cost of services is kept deliberately low for the young people who flock to the safe haven of My Friend’s Place in Hollywood. Carmichael, her staff and dozens of volunteers all work to “create positive attachment” with them, as she describes their process.
Along with traditional social services, My Friend’s Place has become a beacon for youth with a level of distress above the norm, as described in a recent snapshot by Children's Hospital Los Angeles. In side-by-side categories, these homeless young people were shown to be more vulnerable than homeless youth accessing services at other agencies. The needs assessment conducted by CHLA, with support from the California Endowment, was overlaid with data from My Friend’s Place, revealing that the homeless youth who access services at My Friend’s Place exhibit significantly higher rates of substance abuse, past trauma, and mental health challenges.
Carmichael explains, “As for the level of distress of the youth receiving support here at MFP, many of the youth we serve have not been able to thrive in other structured environments and have lost housing, been banned from other community resources leaving them with fewer options and leading them to more intense survival behaviors, greater exposure to victimization and the further delaying of healing of childhood abuse and neglect. We operate as a kind of ‘urgent care’ center for youth who are super distrusting of adults and social services. We meet youth ‘where they are at’ in the ultimate intention to engage them on a path toward wellness and stability.”
A good example of someone helped by their program is 23 year old "Alicia" (she asked that a pseudonym be used to protect her privacy) who offers that "being homeless, you quickly become used to people not caring. But there was never a day I felt like I couldn’t come to My Friend’s Place and find support. Eventually, with the help of My Friend’s Place and other organizations, I got into shelter, I got a job and I began to really work on myself."
Being a homeless youth in Hollywood does not mean being without friends or a place to get help, as My Friend’s Place now demonstrates five days a week, operating for the past 29 years since 1988 when a small staff started it all by packing 50 sack lunches and heading out for their first Friday night meal drive. They were greeted by over 100 young people in need of food. It was the first of thousands of “moments” in Hollywood that have made My Friend’s Place “home” to homeless youth, and such a significant contributor to the community.
(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at [email protected].) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.