Downtown Cluster of Congregations

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2003 ANNUAL REPORT

Contents

 

Introduction

The year began with the region re-gaining its sense of safety following the horrific sniper attacks which terrorized families in the fall of 2002. In the last quarter of 2003 the economy surged, bringing renewed hope after a 3 year slump. Industry reports showed the region having the strongest office market in the country. In downtown
Washington
, several thousand high-priced rental and condominium units opened or neared completion, as a surge in "in-town' living occurred amongst young professionals and others. A major retail store opened in the long vacant "Woodies" building at metro center, in many ways signifying the re-birth of downtown.
Yet in the midst of this economic activity, deadly gang violence and increased poverty marred the city's renewal. Day time gun battles claimed young and innocent lives on the streets of
Mt.Pleasant, Adams Morgan, and in Southeast Washington. The city ended the year with 248 homicides - many of them gang-related. As well, the city reported a 12% increase in requests for shelter and a 22% increase in requests for food aid. The combination of rising housing costs and a slow economy put many families and individuals on the brink of homelessness. The region also continued to face national threats. The country was placed on Code Orange alert, and security was heightened for much of the year due to the war in Iraq
.
It was in this context of uncertainty, at a time of war and local violence, of wealth and yet great need, that member congregations sought to reach out and minister to this unique city, the nation's capital.


Homeless Outreach

The ongoing national economic malaise continued well into 2003. This harsh economic reality, combined with soaring housing costs, resulted in homelessness rising 6.4% over 2002 according to a Council of Government study. A one day study showed some 7,950 persons were homeless in the District, with over 6,320 others homeless in the region. It was in this context that the Homeless Services Unit continued to reach out for the 18th straight year to the homeless and indigent of the city.
This team of 3 full time Outreach Workers rotated between 6 congregation-based sites as well as canvassed parks, commercial areas, and other public spaces where the homeless live. The staff saw 1,432 persons - 356 women and 1,076 men. Women were 25% of those served. The staff provided 1,700+ emergency aid referrals for food, clothing, and shelter. The team was able to provide follow-up, in-depth case-management services to 179 persons. Almost 800 applications were made for Food Stamps, Social Security Benefits, Medicaid, and other assistance. Some 530 of these applications were successful; numerous others remained pending. 179 persons were referred for substance abuse treatment, of which 101 received treatment. 173 persons were referred for mental health treatment, of which 74 actually received such care. Over 320 persons were referred for general medical care. 321 applications were made for transitional and permanent housing, of which 97 persons were placed into such housing. About 80 persons were assisted to avoid displacement. Over 240 persons were referred for job training and placement, of which 71 obtained jobs, and 84 received training.
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 regain control over their lives.



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 $4.5 million. It made over $1,7 million in loans in 2003. Since its inception 16 years ago, the Fund has lent $11.5 million altogether, resulting in the development of about 1,500 units of affordable housing and 20 community- based facilities. The fund helped to provide relief and aid to businesses impacted by 9/11. Its loans have leveraged an additional $100 million in private and public funds. It provided technical assistance to over 30 businesses on
Georgia Avenue as well.



Revitalization of Neglected Properties

The Cluster continued to encourage the revitalization of underutilized 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. Residents moved into the newly re-opened
MatherBuilding at 916 G Street, NW. Some 20% of the units in the building were made affordable to lower-income households. This World War 1 era building had been left vacant by the city government for over a decade, before the Cluster's efforts spurred its revitalization.
The Cluster urged both the Office of Management and Budget and the General Services Administration to put out for bid the Old Post Office Pavilion. The site is one of the most prominent yet under-performing on
Pennsylvania Avenue, with much of the building's retail space sitting vacant. The Cluster urged its competitive re-bid to garner new jobs and increased revenues for the city, as has occurred with other properties such as the old TariffBuilding
, which was restored and re-opened as the Hotel Monaco.
The Cluster continued to urge the competitive sale of the historic
FranklinSchool at 13th and K Streets, N.W. The city used it as a hypothermia shelter during the winter, but the building was virtually uninhabitable and the interior in grave disrepair. Estimates of the building's market value were as high as $10 to $15 million.



Gang Violence.

Gang violence tragically claimed numerous lives, as warring gangs fought brazen day time gun battles, and perpetrated drive by shootings. In response, the Cluster helped to organize and co-sponsor the "Bilingual Community Forum on Gang Violence" at
SacredHeartChurch in Mt.Pleasant in September. Several hundred persons attended the event, speaking to and hearing from local justice, youth, and gang experts.
The Cluster took the lead in fighting gang graffiti. Following the Cluster's urging, Verizon cleaned up its payphones across the city, as well as cleared many of its green switching boxes.. The Cluster contacted the Postmaster General and mailboxes were cleaned up throughout much of
Northwest Washington
. The Cluster contacted the Washington Post, which then cleaned its storage boxes in the city. The Cluster filed a complaint with the Public Services Commission, and as a result the Commission investigated independently owned payphones. As a result of the survey, 30% of the payphones in gang- active areas were found to be illegally installed, and ordered removed. All phones were ordered clean by the Public Service Commission. The graffiti clean up also extended to playgrounds, with the Cluster helping to organize a clean-up of Walter Pierce playground in Adams Morgan.
The Cluster's anti-gang initiative also took other forms. It co-sponsored with
SacredHeartChurch in late November the church's first bi-lingual jobs fair, attracting dozens of employers and hundreds of Spanish speaking job applicants. Federal agencies, city agencies, and major local companies participated, hopefully offering families improved job opportunities. The Cluster also assisted Playstart, a small non-profit community group to build a toddlers' playground adjacent to BancroftElementaryPublic School in Mt.Pleasant.As part of its anti-gang efforts, the Cluster also called for increased staffing at the National Park Service. The Chief of the Park Service was suspended in the wake of declaring staffing shortfalls owing to the number of officers being assigned to national monuments. Many park service patrolled areas - parks and roadways - are where gangs are active.



Pedestrian Safety and Parking Issues

An 8 year old Serbian tourist was killed by a bus at 9th & F Streets, in May, while a woman was killed crossing
Connecticut Avenue at Farragut North. In the wake of these tragedies the Cluster pushed for an array of pedestrian safety enhancements in the downtown area. These actions included pedestrian "countdown" lights, improved signage, and expedited street and road repairs in order to improve sight lines for drivers and pedestrians alike. The Cluster as well challenged for some seven months a Secret Service fence around the old WebsterSchool that was constructed without proper permits and forced pedestrian groups to walk into the street. The fence was finally relocated to allow pedestrians clear passage on the busy H Street sidewalk at 10th Street, N.W.Parking was also an important issue as several congregations moved out of the downtown as a result of the worsening traffic/parking situation. St. Stephen's Baptist Church and Turner Memorial AME moved out of the downtown in the wake of the opening of the new large Convention Center, while Corinthian Baptist Church was put up for sale. The Cluster was able to get the DC Department of Transportation to restore parking around the newly closed old Convention Center, resulting in over 100 parking spots on evening and weekends; got improved signs to add a dozen spaces on F Street and 8th Street, and pushed for the inclusion of parking in new major developments at the Old Wax Museum site and old Convention Center site.
The Cluster continued to advocate for improved safety with regards to special events. Events such as the Caribbean Festival were urged to have more police, crowd, and traffic control personnel. The Cluster advocated for staging major street closures at times that would minimize disruptions to surrounding users and those seeking to attend services. The 2003 DC Marathon was canceled, owing to financial and security issues, avoiding a repeat of the disastrous 2002 Palm Sunday Marathon. The Cluster also advocated quick re-opening of streets in and around Foggy Bottom after IMF/World Bank demonstrations.



Janitors

The Downtown Cluster of Congregations strongly supported the efforts of local janitors to get a renewed contract with better wages and benefits. Many senior clergy were listed in a full page ad in the Washington Post supporting the efforts for a living wage for janitors. A strike was averted, and janitors got both wage increases and several vacation/sick days, and a number received health benefits.



Ethics

The Executive Director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations filed a complaint with the DC Office of Campaign Finance and Ethics over the hiring of a new provost at UDC. The public University had offered the new provost a $10,000 signing bonus and questions were raised about the openness of the hiring process given the new Provost's personal friendship with the new President. The decision of the Office was pending as the year closed.



Downtown Nightclubs
The Cluster continued to oppose the expansion of new strip clubs for downtown. A Ward 7 nightclub sought to open a new strip club in
Chinatown. The Cluster joined with 17 other property owners and businesses in opposing the application. The Cluster also negotiated a new voluntary agreement for a downtown nightclub calling for increased safety measures following the death of a patron who was exiting the club.



Utility Issues

The Downtown Cluster of Congregations settled a 6 year litigation with the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority over the imposition of retail rates on charitable agencies. The settlement proved beneficial to an array of non-profit agencies and congregations. This long term effort also helped to achieve lifeline water rates for qualifying low-income households. So too, the Cluster assisted in rate case #969, in which Washington Gas instead of garnering a $16.3 million rate hike was order to reduce rates by $7 million.



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
CalvaryBaptistChurch, St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church, and Mt.VernonPlaceUnitedMethodistChurch, 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. While TurnerMemorialAMEChurch left the city, the United House of Prayer for All People (6th & M Street, NW) became the Cluster's newest member at year's end..



2003 Officers and Staff

President: Maxine Maye, Lincoln Temple, UCC; Vice President: Mary Miller, John Wesley AMEZion 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.



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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