Downtown Cluster of Congregations

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2002 was a year of recovery as well as new tragedy for the region. The year began with the city seeking to regain its footing in the aftermaths of the 9/11 and anthrax attacks. The winter and early spring months saw the gradual return of the tourism industries - so vital to the local economy. Yet only as the city was returning to pre-9/11 activity levels, the region was struck by the impacts of the serial sniper killings. Innocent lives were again taken, and numerous secondary impacts were felt. These events continued in the context of a nation's capital preparing for the possibility of war with Iraq.

These events unfolded as member congregations sought to continue to serve the needy amongst us - not forgetting the homeless poor, youth, the elderly, and the working poor who are so negatively impacted by rising housing costs, local violence, and a depressed economy. Congregations sought to commemorate all the victims of 9/11, while supporting those who were newly struck by tragedy and violence.

It was in this context of both local and national recovery that the Downtown Cluster of Congregations and its members were called to serve. Clearly the role of the religious community remained vital in 2002, as it sought to offer direct aid as well as solace and religious leadership during challenging times.

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Homeless Outreach

The on-going national economic malaise of two years continued in 2002, spurred in part by 9/11 impacts. Locally, it meant more persons coming here seeking employment - especially immigrants, as well as increase difficulty for those already seeking employment. This economic reality, combined with soaring housing costs, meant more and more persons becoming homeless in the region, with homelessness up in the region by 8.8% according to a Council of Government study over 2001. It was in this context that the Homeless Services Unit continued to reach out for the 17th straight year to the homeless and indigent of the city.

This team of 3 full time Outreach Workers rotated between 9 congregation-based sites as well as canvassed parks, commercial areas, and other public spaces where the homeless live. The staff saw 1,470 persons - 291 women and 1,179 men. Women were 20% of those served. The staff provided 1,300+ emergency aid referrals for food, clothing, and shelter. The team was able to provide follow-up, in-depth case-management services to 164 persons. About 425 applications were made for Food Stamps, Social Security Benefits, Medicaid, and other assistance. Some 315 of these applications were successful; numerous others remained pending. 102 persons were referred for substance abuse treatment, of which 37 received treatment. 80 persons were referred for mental health treatment, of which 47 actually received such care. Over 250 persons were referred for general medical care. 137 applications were made for transitional and permanent housing, of which 52 persons were placed into such housing. Over 100 persons were referred for job training and placement, of which 44 obtained jobs, and 32 received training.

Trends for 2002 included an increased number of families seeking aid, and an increase in the number of persons in danger of becoming homeless seeking assistance as well.

The goal of the Homeless Services Unit is to assist each person to meet life-threatening emergency needs, while addressing long-term needs in order to break the cycle of homelessness or poverty. This is achieved by the staff forging a working partnership with each person and family, and allowing them to identify and implement the steps necessary to re-gain control over their lives.

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Washington Area Community Investment Fund (WACIF)

The Downtown Cluster of Congregations and its members continued to support this non-profit loan fund. The Cluster is a significant investor in the Fund, which has assets of about $4 million, and an additional $2 million to provide aid to 9/11 impacted businesses through loans or grants. The Fund celebrated its 15th Anniversary in October of 2002. During its operation, it has originated over $9.5 million in loans to 133 organizations; has leveraged more than $60 million in other loan funds, and this has resulted in the development of some 1,400+ units of affordable housing and 20 community-based facilities. It approved 15 loans in 2002, and closed on 7 such loans. These loans are primarily to tenant-owned organizations, non-profit agencies, or religious facilities seeking the rehabilitation or construction of affordable housing.

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Revitalization of Neglected Properties

The Cluster continued to encourage the revitalization of several large abandoned or under-utilized government-owned parcels, in order to secure new jobs and housing opportunities for residents, as well as new tax revenues for the community's use. In 2002, the old Tariff Building re-opened as the Hotel Monaco, delivering many new jobs and revenues to the city. The Roosevelt Apartments also re-opened at 16th & V Streets, N.W., which had been decaying for years under government ownership. Rehabilitation got under way of the Mather Building in the 900 block of G Street, N.W., which should include affordable housing.

New sites that were sought for rehabilitation include the historic Franklin School at 13th & K Streets, N.W., city-owned land at 65 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W. - a site of about 60,000 square feet in close proximity to Union Station and the Capitol, and the old Post Office Pavilion. The Franklin School has sat vacant for over a decade; its sale could garner $10 million or more for the city. These funds could specifically aid D.C. Public Schools which saw its budget cut by $30 million in the fall owing to D.C. revenue shortfalls. The vacant parcel at 65 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., has sat vacant for years; a new appraisal shows the city could garner $45 - $55 million from its sale alone. The old Post Office Pavilion has also fallen on hard retail times, and a new competition could breath new jobs and revenues into the site.

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Utility Issues

In prior years, the Cluster had won a ruling from the D.C. Court of Appeals that the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority had illegally raised rates on congregations on ono-profit agencies. The Cluster continued to pursue in 2002 rebates for overcharges made to those who the rate was imposed upon.

The Downtown Cluster of Congregations joined other citizen and community groups in opposing a $16 million rate increase sought by Washington Gas before the Public Service Commission. As a result of community input and the work of the Office of People's Counsel, Washington Gas was ordered to refund to ratepayers $7.5 million - the first rate reduction in over 15 years! Washington Gas is appealing the ruling. Community Services and Issues

The year began with the Cluster monitoring expenditure of 9/11 assistance funds. The Cluster pushed for the expedited spending and accounting of funds donated to various charities for aid to 9/11 related victims. Particularly, the Cluster sought to speed aid to the 15,000+ temporarily displaced hospitality, airline, and tourism related workers in the aftermath of the tragedy.

A Cluster representative served on the D.C. Public Schools Sept. 11th Advisory Committee which made recommendations for memorials for Bernard Brown, Rodney Dickens, and Asia Cottom (all age 11) and their 3 teachers - James Debeuneure, Hilda Taylor and Sarah Clark - who died on 9/11.

The Executive Director weighed in on the changing to a lottery basis entry to preferred out of boundary public schools. Parents were beginning to camp out for more than 10 days in advance of registration for out-of-boundary admissions. This process created severe hardships for single parent families, and those working multiple jobs. By year's end, the D.C. Public School system announced a new set of guidelines by which out-of-boundary applications would be handled, with the institution of a lottery system.

The Cluster weighed in on "special events" that the Mayor sought to have in the city, without adequate consideration of the costs nor impacts. For example, the Executive Director called for full disclosure of the economic costs of hosting a Grand Prix racing event on Capitol Hill, as well as mitigation of sound impacts. Full costs to the public were never released, and noise impacts violated local ordinances, driving many residents from their homes for the week-end long event. The Cluster and its members sought alternative routes and timing for the D.C. Marathon, which closed 26 miles of D.C. streets on Palm Sunday morning. Many persons seeking to attend worship services were blocked; the event particularly impacted the elderly and handicapped, preventing many from reaching their places of worship. The Cluster spoke against a Mike Tyson boxing match, as he had been suspended in other jurisdictions including Las Vegas for behaviors both inside and outside of the ring. The Executive Director spoke on national radio citing the urgent need to set examples for youth in the city.

As well, it was the Cluster which called for Alcohol Beverage Control Board oversight of the RFK Sports complex, which hosted a concert featuring "Eminem" that resulted in 2 persons being critically injured, numerous arrests for drug-related charges, and dozens of persons being transferred to local hospitals owing to a stampeding of the stage and alcohol/drug related effects. It was urged that persons be barred from the field to prevent such stampedes, and that alcohol service be monitored.

Given the Cluster's longstanding efforts to curb underage drinking, it had sought preventive steps by University of Maryland officials prior to the NCAA Final Four tournament to avoid "celebratory rioting". Few to no preventive actions were taken by University and College Park authorities; riots after the team's basketball victories resulted in both property damage and the loss of an eye by a Metro bus drive.

The Cluster continued to provide leadership in opposing the expansion of liquor licenses to adult strip clubs in downtown. After approximately 5 years of litigation, hearings, and changes in the law, the 1720 Club withdrew its application to locate within close proximity to member congregations, other office and retail uses, and the White House.

The Cluster continued to monitor the activities of other downtown nightclubs as well. Staff met with Alcohol Beverage Control staff and the new police commander of the 1st District to go over safety procedures in downtown. There were at least 2 homicides related to local nightclubs during the year in downtown.

Crime and safety rose as issues of concern as the homicide rate continued to climb, and the closure rates of such crimes fell through much of the year. The Executive Director called on enhanced policing around metro stops. The Cluster called for police escorts for school drop-offs and pick-ups after a Maryland middle school student was shot by the snipers. Homicides rose 13% in 2002 to 262 such victims.

The Cluster provided aid to a number of health related initiatives - advertising blood drives, sickle cell disease education efforts, and prostate cancer screenings. The Cluster helped to find meeting space for a rape victims' support group.

The Cluster's efforts were cited in over 50 published articles, and numerous radio and tv stories.

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Special Recognition

Special recognition goes to New York Avenue Presbyterian Church which continued to provide administrative office space and program space to the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, as it has since its inception in 1972. Special thanks also goes to Church of the Pilgrims, Calvary Baptist Church, St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church, Mt. Vernon Place United Methodist Church, St. Columba's Episcopal Church, and St. John's Church of Lafayette Square for their provision of operating space for Cluster activities. The Cluster's other members also provide financial aid, volunteers, operating space, and Board members for countless community endeavors. The Cluster's membership grew to 39 member congregations with the entry of Peoples Congregational Church, U.C.C.

Given so many historic members, the Cluster served as a co-sponsor of a national conference on the preservation and modernization of historic sanctuaries, and their adaptation to mission/community services. A number of its members served as tour sites for the conference in October here in Washington, D.C.

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2002 Officers

President: Maxine Maye, Lincoln Temple, UCC Vice President: Mary Miller, John Wesley AME Zion Church Treasurer: John Mack, First Congregational Church, UCC Asst. Treasurer: Austin Dandridge, Second Baptist Church Secretary: Jack Womeldorf, Church of the Pilgrims Asst. Secretary: Marian Carrick, Second Baptist Church


Executive Director: Terrance Lynch; Senior Outreach Worker: Julie Turner; Associate Outreach Worker: Juan Carlos Benavides; and Associate Outreach Worker: Sharon Winfield.

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Directors and Financial Reports

A listing of member congregations and Directors is available upon request. The Downtown Cluster of Congregations is independently audited annually. Such audits are available upon request.        

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Copyright 2002 Downtown Cluster of Congregations
Last modified: January 31, 2003