Putting a Face to the Impact

One of the ways our company gives back to the community is by helping to address youth homelessness falling disproportionately on our LGBTQ+ youth. We do this through annual donations to several organizations that focus specifically on this issue. As a gay-owned and operated business, Columbia Property Management (CPM) sees it as important — and natural and authentic — to focus on an area both related to our industry expertise and the lives we lead.

As the owner of the company, I decided to create a more specific and long-term initiative, providing support toward missions about which I feel most strongly. I chose causes that are not only making an impact in our community but also making an impact around and through the real estate industry. These are organizations that closely align with CPM’s values.

Recently I had a profound experience when confronted with the reality of this crisis, while on vacation. I had gotten to know an upstanding young man through a friend and found out that he was living on the streets. He is squarely the sort of client for the organizations we provide philanthropic support to, and I was left with the realization that giving money is helpful, but perhaps there is more we could do.

A Chance Meeting
A good friend introduced me to a young man he knew, let’s call him “Frank,” and explained to me Frank’s situation. I had several projects in and around an apartment I was staying at and needed some extra help. My friend suggested that Frank could help me with some small jobs and labor-intensive tasks as a way to earn some side cash. I was not sure how comfortable I would be nor what sort of emotional state Frank would be in, given how much harder than my life that his daily life must be. I suppose our defaults of those who we think are unhoused are those individuals we can see in downtown DC who are “visibly homeless”: like the many unkempt people pushing overflowing shopping carts, you see throughout the city.

Meeting the Beneficiary
When I met Frank, I realized I had seen him before. He was often out and about in the town each day, clearly enjoying the playful energy of his young dog and meeting other dog owners. He did not appear to be without housing, but again, I suppose it is natural to craft a story for ourselves about what homelessness looks like. Even working people in the U.S. sometimes end up sleeping in their cars when they lose their housing. It is a problem that is growing.

Frank was pleasant and diligent, did a great job, and while he had his dog with him the entire time, it was clear he had a tight bond and was doing a great job training him. He appeared like any other young person — listening to music on his mobile phone and watching videos.

Through the daily interactions, we began to build trust. I offered food and he brought small gifts. He cleaned around the apartment where I was staying and was always grateful, even if he was a bit skittish. He seemed to be constantly tired and when his dog had some time to rest, she went to sleep almost immediately. After some time, he told me his history of living on the streets for five years, which was the reason he always had his dog with him.

Frank’s father had kicked him out of the family household when he was 16 years old, and he was forced to learn the hard reality of being on your own and vulnerable. He had to take care of himself, find shelter, get food, and cover other expenses. Forget about the simple pleasures in life other people sometimes take for granted, he was in survival mode. To me, it cut deep that a parent could do that to their child and particularly to this young man.

Frank survives by doing odd jobs, he worked in agriculture for a few years and also relies on others helping him when they can. To survive, he even had to turn to sex work. He does not do that anymore and due to his religion, does not consume drugs or alcohol (though he had a mean sweet tooth). He is clear-eyed about his situation and grateful when people give him a chance, a warm shower, or a meal.

The Profound Impact
What struck me about Frank was his pride. He doesn’t want to be a burden to others. He is humble, if a bit emotionally fragile. My immediate reaction was to ask myself what I could do to help. Maybe he didn’t want that sort of assistance, but I felt compelled to at least offer some assistance to get him resources. If I had been at home in the DC area there would be several social workers I know who could meet with him. But I was on vacation and did not know where to look. However, I do have networking skills and know how to make connections and was able to follow some leads on organizations that could assist him.

Though he had not lived long in the gay-friendly seaside town I was visiting, it turns out Frank had already done a circuit of shelters and agencies in the area. None seemed to provide the level of humanity, privacy, or security he needed. I mentioned he can talk with a social worker, and the town hall provides trained professionals to help him and others in his situation. But he was skeptical and did not want me to make that connection until he was ready. Unfortunately, over time he has grown distrustful, a bit paranoid, and suffers from bouts of depression, so he wasn’t really receptive.

Getting to know this side of Frank tugged at my heartstrings. It was only later that I realized the direct connection to the work organizations do to which my company donates each year. Here in front of me was a potential recipient of the assistance and programming of what those donations can do to get housing for young people like Frank. Young people can not only survive, but also they can thrive if given a chance at some stability, a place to call home, a steady job.

The Takeaways
Becoming acquainted with Frank not only tore down some of my stereotypes, but also it renewed my convictions that this is the right field for our company to be focused on for annual giving. The issues may be complex and the short supply of affordable housing only exacerbates the challenges. But other problems arise for those who walk in Frank’s shoes, including a sense of insecurity, discomfort with the lack of privacy at shelters, and other obstacles that make accessing solutions difficult –immediate, short-term, and long-term. And certainly locally, right here in D.C., more can be done to create safe spaces.

Call to Action
Heading into 2024, CPM is continuing to support organizations helping unhoused LGBTQ+ young people so that they can identify the support they need and to get into some sort of housing solution.

To cement CPM’s commitment, we’ve chosen a three-pronged approach to support either local organizations or national organizations with local initiatives. We encourage all to consider donating to these or other organizations.

SMYAL meets the needs of LGBTQ youth in the Washington, D.C., metro area, and has done so since the 1980s. In addition to creating leadership opportunities for LGBTQ youth to build confidence, strengthen life skills, and engage effectively with their community, SMYAL also has a Youth Housing program that provides transitional living for LGBTQ young adults. As part of our contribution to SMYAL, we aim to not only contribute financially but also to partner with the organization to increase their housing availability and assist their efforts in sheltering homeless LGBTQ youth. CPM commits to providing practical assistance in navigating leases, locating properties that meet their needs, and much more.

True Colors United addresses youth homelessness—specifically in the LGBTQ community. They not only advocate for funding and services for youth but also, offer free training and resources for homeless shelters and support organizations on how to effectively meet the unique needs of LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness. In addition, they assist LGBTQ youth who’ve experienced homelessness to become leaders and advocates helping them to address the issues they face head-on.

The Salvation Army has recently created a specific outreach program that focuses not only on homelessness in the LGBTQ community, but also on addressing food insecurity, mental health and substance abuse treatment, suicide prevention, and job training—all areas in which LGBTQ homeless people face meaningful challenges.

Frank’s story illustrates the power of personal interactions in donating to worthy organizations like the three above. His journey reminds us that behind every charitable contribution are real people with dreams and struggles. I want to encourage you to engage with the beneficiaries of the donations you give and foster human connections and empathy.

My encounter with Frank has deepened my dedication to the organizations Columbia Property Management donates to. It’s not really the donation alone that matters; donations help of course. But it’s also about changing lives. I invite you to share your experiences and thoughts on this subject. Together, we can make a lasting impact on LGBTQ+ youth homelessness and create a world, even if only in our own small District of Columbia, where every young person has a place to call home.

The Why Behind our Donations
When considering how to give back and select a cause that we felt passionate about here at Columbia Property Management, it was important to find an area for the company to contribute that had both a connection to our industry — housing people — and to serve the local and national LGBTQ+ community.

The intersection of these choices led us to learn about the extremely high rate of homeless youth who identify as LGBTQ+. We found several charities (listed at the bottom of this article) that have specific programs in this area. This is the reason we selected them as recipients. We felt that donating to organizations with these specific programs would have the biggest impact.

We’d like to do more, which is why I write about this topic, and we try to donate a bit more each year.

We’d love for you to join us.

Scott Bloom, Owner and Senior Property Manager, Columbia Property Management
Bloom founded Columbia Property Management in 2012. CPM’s goal is to provide a powerful, personal level of service to our clients. We focus on smaller landlords, professionally managing their assets, so they can succeed by investing in rental real estate.

Scott is an active member in multiple professional organizations including the National Association of Residential Property Managers (NARPM) and serves on the property management committee of Greater Capital Area Association of REALTORS® (GCAAR).

For more information and resources, go to www.ColumbiaPM.com