Downtown Cluster of Congregations

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2004 was a year of tremendous division - both nationally and locally. The city faced an ever greater widening between rich and poor. Studies showed that the top 20% of DC's households have over 30 times the average income of the bottom 20% - as great an income disparity as any city in America. Housing prices continued to soar, putting tremendous fiscal pressure on working poor families. For example, median home prices had risen 40% in only a 3 year period. Some 50,000 families region-wide are on waiting lists for housing vouchers, and some 10,000 of those are homeless. While the number of jobs in D.C. rose, unemployment amongst D.C. residents actually increased almost 2%, meaning over 5,000 more unemployed D.C. residents in 2004.

The city's social problems remained grave. The city again had one of the highest murder rates of any major city - much of this related to gang or crew violence. School reform was stymied as the city was without a permanent School Superintendent for over 9 months. While downtown office, residential, and retail development boomed, frustratingly slow progress was made in bringing new jobs and opportunities to surrounding neighborhoods without simply displacing long-time and lower-income residents.

At the same time, the nation remained a country at war, its attention further consumed by a sharply contested presidential election. 2004 saw ever heightened levels of "security" - street closings, checkpoints, and screenings. It was in this context - of national debate, war, and growing divisions, that the Downtown Cluster of Congregations and its member congregations sought to make a difference in the life of the city and region.

Homeless Outreach

The poverty rate in the District was at almost 17%. With dramatically rising housing costs, shelter, utility, and food assistance requests continued to climb. The requests for shelter in the city was up about 12%, and the requests for food aid up over 20%. A one day homeless count showed 14,537 persons homeless in the region. Given these conditions, the demand for aid by the Homeless Services Unit remained great.

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 over 1,400 persons. 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 250 persons. Almost 900 applications were made for Food Stamps, Social Security Benefits, Medicaid, and other assistance. Some 560 of these applications were successful; numerous others remained pending. Over 200 persons were referred for substance abuse treatment, of which 125 received treatment. 225 persons were referred for mental health treatment, of which 118 actually received such care. Over 450 persons were referred for general medical care. Over 300 applications were made for transitional and permanent housing, of which 89 persons were placed into such housing. 345 persons were referred for job training and placement, of which 106 obtained jobs, and 93 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 million. Since its inception, the Fund has lent over $13.5 million, leveraging an additional $100 million in loan dollars, resulting in the development of about 1,500 units of affordable housing and 21 community-based facilities across the region. The fund also has been active in supplying loans and technical assistance to over 40 small businesses.

Gang Violence.

A key initiative of the agency has been to address the tools used by gangs to perpetuate violence, intimidate neighbors, and recruit members. To that end, the Cluster took the lead in fighting gang graffiti across the city.

At the Cluster's request, the US Postmaster General removed graffiti from hundreds of mailboxes across the region. So too, following written requests, the Washington Post, The Washington Times, The New York Daily News, the Common Denominator, The Washington Hispanic, and other publications cleaned their vending boxes of gang-related graffiti. So too, Verizon cleaned their public payphones, and WMATA cleaned their bus shelters and other public-space equipment. The Cluster's efforts helped to raise awareness by federal agencies, local and regional agencies, and private businesses of the violent and deadly impacts gang-related graffiti can have.

Utility Issues

As a result of its efforts to reduce gang-graffiti, the Cluster's succeeded in having illegally installed payphones removed from neighborhoods throughout the city. A number of vendors had simply installed payphones without permits, and often were charging extraordinary rates. Many of these phones were serving as tools for criminal activities as well. Neighborhood leaders welcomed relief from illegal, unregulated payphones which contributed to loitering, drug trafficking, and other problems.

The Cluster also urged the creation of a combined federal, local, and private consortium to address the high lead levels found contaminating the local water supply. At the Cluster's behest, a lead screening and water filter giveaway occurred at Sacred Heart Church in Columbia Heights, to increase outreach to latino families who are at particularly high risk of lead poisoning from paint and water, as well as other sources. The Executive Director urged that a 5% rate increase in water rates be held off until the Water and Sewer Authority successfully addressed the lead water situation.

The Cluster's inquiries lead to the public revelation that thousands of street lights were not working at any given time in the city. This came in the aftermath of the tragic slaying of a waiter going home after work in Dupont Circle, who was slain on a street where the lights were not working. The city promised to speed repairs to improve safety conditions.

Pedestrian Safety, Parking and Access Issues

As the city tragically suffered 10 pedestrian deaths in 2004, the Cluster continued to push for increased safety measures. Countdown walk signals were installed at many intersections. The Secret Service moved a fence it had erected at 10th & H Streets, NW which had lead to pedestrians being forced to walk into the streets. At the Cluster's urging, the Director of the city's Department of Transportation undertook an effort to develop a model pedestrian program that would improve pedestrian transit - in terms of education and safety. Given the boom in the number of tourists and new residents and workers in the downtown, the need for coordinated planning amidst numerous construction sites and newly opening metro sites was more evident than ever.

With regards to access, the Cluster continued to help lead efforts to reduce "security" closings. It called on city officials to re-open streets suddenly closed by federal officials with no warning. So too, it was able to work with authorities to keep open a number of major arteries during IMF and World Bank demonstrations that would have otherwise been closed to persons seeking to attend an array of other events in the city. It also worked with special event organizers to minimize public street closings during private events, festivals, concerts and charity races. The goal was to maximize participation but minimize disruptions, so that worship services, restaurant, business, and other special events could go on simultaneously in a multi-use, vibrant city.

The Cluster helped to challenge the imposition of $48,000 in fines by the city government on the organizers of the Mt. Pleasant Festival - a celebration of the mix of cultures and ages in that neighborhood - owing to the use of "pop-up" tents by vendors and community groups at the event. The decision on the fine was pending as the year ended.

Grocery and Hotel Workers

The Downtown Cluster of Congregations supported the efforts of grocery store workers and hotel workers to maintain their levels of health care coverage in seeking renewed union contracts. The Executive Director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations served as the Chairman of the Workers' Rights Board. The Board convened hearings on the work conditions of hotel and grocery store workers. Fortunately, the Food and Commercial Workers Union reached a new collective bargaining agreement with local grocery stores, avoiding a strike which would have impacted thousands of families, while maintaining excellent benefits. The Cluster played an important role in those discussions, and continued to encourage resolution of the growing impasse between the hotel workers and the hotel association.


Downtown Nightclubs

The Cluster helped to negotiate a voluntary agreement for improving safety at a new nightclub in downtown, while continuing to oppose the expansion of strip clubs in downtown. Efforts to open a new strip club in Chinatown near the newly opened Convention Center and the MCI Center were withdrawn after vigorous opposition from the Cluster, residents, and nearby businesses.

Public Library Renewal

The Executive Director was placed on the Mayor's Commission on the Future of the District of Columbia Library System. The Commission's efforts were to assess the current state of the system, evaluate and revise the proposal for a new Central Library and seek renovation of neighborhood facilities.


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 Calvary Baptist Church, St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church, and Mt. Vernon Place United Methodist Church, 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. All Souls Memorial Episcopal Church (2300 Cathedral Avenue, N.W.) and . Mt. Gilead Baptist Church (1625 13th Street, N.W.) became the Cluster's 40th & 41st members

2004 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; 
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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