Hollywood Non-Profit Helps Troubled Youth

Written By: David Carr
Photos By: Michael Kass

My Friend’s Place: A non-profit finds, help, hope and a home for troubled youth in Hollywood.

The homeless situation in Los Angeles is still a pervasive issue. Many organizations along with community representatives and volunteers have tried to make a dent into this on going problem. One organization making a difference is My Friend’s Place. My Friend’s Place has created a comprehensive approach to dealing with homeless youth in Hollywood by providing shelter, a safe environment and in some instances a pathway to education and a better life. Michael Kass is the Director of Development at My Friend’s Place and he sat down with me to talk about the organization and how they are tackling this crisis.

David Carr: How long has My Friend’s Place been in operation and how long have you worked there?

Michael Kass: MFP was founded in 1988 and I have worked here for 2.5 years.

DC: At this point in time how many youth would you say are currently being helped at My Friends Place?

MK: We see nearly 2,000 youth per year. They access services ranging from basic needs (food, clothing, showers, etc.) to educational opportunities, health education, and clinical case management.

DC: What is the percentage of homeless youth in Hollywood right now?

MK: There are approximately 11,000 homeless youth in Los Angeles County. I’m not sure what the exact count for Hollywood is, but I can tell you that our area is one of the few in which the number of homeless youth is increasing. Hollywood has always been a magnet for homeless youth and the current economic conditions have not changed that.

DC: In your opinion what is the main catalyst that puts kids on the streets? Is it broken homes? Drug abuse? Teenage runaways?

MK: It runs the gamut, David. We are seeing an increasing number of youth who have aged out of the foster care system–they hit age 18 and are expelled from the system, often without the skills or resources to live independently. A significant percentage of the youth we see are escaping from mentally or physically abusive homes and/or families. As the economic crisis has gone on, we have seen more and more youth whose families simply cannot afford to care for them right now. Sometimes the entire family is living in a shelter and the youth just need a place to go to be safe during the day.

DC: Is there anyway to breakdown percentage what kind of situations these kids are coming out of?

MK: A needs assessment conducted last year by The California Endowment and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles revealed that 57% of the youth at MFP were victims of childhood physical abuse, 75% have been involved with the criminal justice system in some form, and nearly one third are dealing with depression and/or bipolar disorder.

DC: How does My Friends Place help these youth?

MK: The idea of building trust and strong relationships is at the core of all MFP programs. Our model is low-barrier–any homeless youth between the ages of 12 and 25 (and their children) is welcome into our space as long as they are able to maintain our safe haven. Our mission is to assist and inspire homeless youth to build self-sufficient lives. Within this broad framework, we offer services in three general areas:

1. Basic Needs: Food, clothing, showers, hygiene products, communication, referrals to outside services, etc… Often, a young person on the streets has not eaten for days. Extreme hunger can make it impossible to focus on anything other than getting food. By meeting these most basic of needs, MFP makes it possible for a youth to begin focusing on longer-term plans.

2. Transformative Education: This includes workshops ranging from employment skills, resume preparation, and GED preparation to Creative Arts (theater, circus arts, creative writing, and visual arts). The creative arts programs function as a mental health intervention–young people achieve breakthroughs in writing or even circus arts that would not be possible in a more traditional mental health setting.

3. Health and Well-Being: Includes health education (OD prevention, STI prevention, emotional well-being, violence prevention, etc.) and clinical case management.

In addition to services our staff provides, we have partnerships with over 70 organizations that allow us to offer services such as basic onsite primary medical care, mental health therapy, and legal services.

DC: I know as a development director your primary job is to raise money but do you ever get involved with the program side of the organization?

MK: I do get involved with some creative arts programs when time allows. I’ve facilitated the theater workshop a few times, facilitated a film festival jury (a group of young people served as the “Youth Jury” for the environmentally focused Jules Verne Film Festival), and have worked to expand our Circus Arts program

DC: How can people get involved with your organization? What can folks do to do help?

MK: We have tons of volunteer opportunities, and we are always looking for in-kind donations and people can donate online to help support our services. A complete rundown of volunteer opportunities can be found here: http://www.myfriendsplace.org/howtovolunteer.html

DC: Michael thanks for taking the time to chat with me about what’s going on at My Friend’s Place.

MK: Not a problem David.

For more information on how to get involved with My Friend’s Place log on to www.myfriendsplace.org.

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