Downtown Cluster of Congregations

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The year began with great challenges. There was a perception of the nation being divided following a closePresidential race, and the country still at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. There continued to be expanded security closings, alerts, and shutdowns in the city itself owing to an array of national events. Regionally, while the economy grew for many, the costs of living continued to rise far faster than income for the working poor. Member congregations faced growing lists of persons in need of housing, utility aid, and meeting other living expenses as the cost of housing continued to soar. More and more rental units were converted to luxury condominium units. The rise in housing costs was matched by the tremendous rise in heating and fuel prices in the wake of Katrina. Many households were being forced to choose between which bills they should pay.

It was in this context of political divide, a country at war, a community that while wealthy had greater divisions between rich and poor than ever, that the Downtown Cluster of Congregations and its members were called upon to provide services and leadership.

Homeless Outreach

Regional studies showed homelessness grew another 6.2% in the Washington region, climbing from 14,537 in 2004 to 15,439 in 2005. About 2/3rds of those are the literally homeless - with no shelter or temporary housing. Homelessness continued to be a very real threat not just special needs persons either, but ever more serious for working poor families living paycheck to paycheck in a city with some of the sharpest price increases in the nation. It was in this context that the Homeless Services Unit continued to reach out for the 20th 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 1,544persons - 320 women and 1224 men. Women were 20% of those served. The staff provided 1700+ emergency aid referrals for food, clothing, and shelter. The team was able to provide follow-up, in-depth case-management services to 190 persons. 650 applications were made for Food Stamps, Social Security Benefits, Medicaid, and other assistance. Over 450 of these applications were successful; numerous others remained pending.239 persons were referred for substance abuse treatment, of which 125 received treatment.175 persons were referred for mental health treatment, of which 113 actually received such care. Over 400 persons were referred for general medical care. Almost 300 applications were made for transitional and permanent housing, of which 57 persons were placed into such housing. 240 persons were referred for job training and placement, of which 103 obtained jobs, and 85 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.

In the aftermath of Katrina - just as with devastating economic events such as 9/11 in 2001 and the Sniper case in 2002 - the Cluster and its members reached out to those made homeless by this storm. The Cluster urged that the city share its municipal emergency personnel with the Gulf Coast regions, urged Universities to open up their enrollment for displaced students, and provided support to evacuees at the Stadium-Armory. Cluster members such as Metropolitan AME organized direct relief supplies to the region, while others provided or supported housing and services here in the city.

Washington Area Community Investment Fund (WACIF)

The Downtown Cluster of Congregations - an initial founder of this low-income community loan fund -increased its investment further to both help purchase and rehabilitate affordable housing, and start small businesses. Over the last 2 years, WACIF has made $2 million in loans, and provided technical assistance to over 50 small businesses, helping to create some 265 jobs and over $5 million in revenue for these businesses. Since its inception, the Fund has made over 190 loans totaling over $14 million. These loans have helped to leverage over $100 million in other private and public loan funds, and made possible the development or preservation of almost 1,500 housing units and 21 community-based facilities serving special need groups.

Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Library Task Force

The Executive Director served on the Mayor’s Library Task Force which developed plans for the revitalization of D.C.’s 26 branch facilities and Central Library. The goal of the Task Force is to envision and prioritize current public needs for library services, and urge means of achieving those services. This would necessitate an almost complete overhaul of current facilities, inclusive of a brand new Central Library. The Task Force visited cities across the continent which provide “state of the art” library services. The Task Force was finalizing its report at year’s end. Program themes for D.C.’s Libraries would be Basic Literacy, Lifelong Learning, Homework Help, Information Literacy, Best Sellers and Hot Topics, and Public Spaces. Key goals are to dramatically expand the technology capacity and services at DC’s libraries, and create revitalized, learning and information centers through the existing or new branches and building of a new Central Library. They should serves as hubs of use and activity for persons of all ages, and as meeting locations for all types of civic purposes.

Gang Related Graffiti and Violence.

Gang violence tragically claimed numerous lives, as warring gangs fought brazen day time battles at schools and malls across the region. The Cluster’s primary effort was to continue to address the proliferation of gang graffiti in the District - a tool gangs use to intimidate and control neighborhoods and recruit new members. In response to requests by the Cluster, the US Postal Service cleaned hundreds of mailboxes, the Washington Post and Washington Times cleaned many of their boxes, as well as Verizon, PEPCO and other businesses sought to keep their public space equipment clean. The DC Department of Public Works and the DC Department of Transportation were asked to clean hundreds of pieces of street equipment - ranging from switching boxes to parking meters that were tagged or defaced in some manner. For the second summer in a row, a student from Washington & Lee University - Cynthia Cheatham, provided critical help in charting where graffiti was occurring and helping to coordinate clean-up efforts. Expanding afterschool, weekend, and summer programs for youth remains a priority as well for reducing gang activity.

Pedestrian Safety and Parking Issues

There were tragically several high profile pedestrian fatalities in 2005, inclusive of a safety officer, the leader of a Southeast Community Revitalization agency, and a famed, retired federal planner. Indeed pedestrian fatalities rose 60% in 2005 vs. the number of deaths in 2004. The Cluster was a leading advocate for the development and implementation of a model pedestrian program plan for the city, as exists in other cities. Such a plan would address issues of design, public education, and enforcement in order to encourage safe pedestrian traffic. Many intersections across the city had received “countdown” lights at the Cluster’s urging that better advise pedestrians of the time they have to cross streets.

Parking was also an important issue as several congregations - all African American - moved out of the downtown as a result of the worsening traffic/parking situation. Corinthian Baptist Church was the most recent downtown church put up for sale. The Cluster has been working with the Washington Convention Center Authority to allow parking on the old Convention Center site. At year’s end it had just been paved. The Cluster hopes to maximize use of the parking space for all types of users who visit the downtown.

The Cluster also lead efforts to improve parking meters. On any given day, upwards of 50% of parking meters could be found broken - resulting in unintended tickets to those seeking to attend or volunteer at churches,visit stores, or go about their business. The city fixed thousands of meters at the Cluster’s behest, and sought to replace the existing mechanism with the multi-space meter which has been popular in other cities - reducing breakdowns, maintenance costs, and increasing public revenues.


Janitors and Hotel Workers

The Downtown Cluster of Congregations strongly supported the efforts of janitors to get contracts at local Universities, and for Hotel Workers to get a new labor agreement. Fortunately, the hotel owners and labor reached a settlement that resulted in higher pensions and wages for hotel workers. With the Cluster’s support of student organizers, Georgetown University agreed to recognize a union agreement for its janitors, adopting living wage standards. This was precedent setting both for Universities in the area and nationally. The Cluster’s Director was recognized by the DC Chapter of Jobs with Justice with its 2005 I’ll Be There Award” for his service on the local Workers Rights Board and his efforts on behalf of the hotel workers and University janitors.

Utility Issues

A 10 month old boy died in a fire started by a candle. Though his family had been approved for utility aid, the application had not been forwarded by city authorities to the utility company. At the Cluster’s behest, the DC Auditor began an audit investigation of the D.C. Energy Office. The Cluster also urged the repeal of a gross receipts tax on home heating fuel, which with the dramatic rise in fuel prices in the wake of Katrina, would have inflated home utility bills even more. It is expected home heating costs will rise at least 30%. The Cluster sought added utility aid, and called onutility companies to disclose how many shut offs occur annually.The Cluster’s efforts also resulted in the cleaning of payphones city-wide, and improvement of licensing and consumer notification with regards to their operation.


New Endeavors

The Cluster helped to initiate the National Daughter-Daddy Reunion Tour. This is an endeavor of anew non-profit agency founded by Jonetta Rose Barras, a well-known local media personality, which seeks to heal father-daughter relationships and recognize the impact of absentee fathers on the lives of women. The initial meetings of the program occurred at National City Christian Church, and efforts were planned to host meetings in Baltimore and other cities across the country. The Cluster also sought to initiate a Community Voice Mail program - an effort to garner phone messaging services for the homeless, battered women, job-seekers and others. This is a tool for helping persons with job re-entry, achieve new housing, garner social and health services, as well as having safe communication without suffering the stigma of being seen as homeless. The Cluster undertook this effort in partnership with DC Central Kitchen. An initial grant for the project was received at the end of 2005.

Old Post Office Pavilion

The Cluster continued to encourage the revitalization of this federally-owned building, in order to secure new jobs for residents, as well as new tax revenues for the community’s use.Tragically, the federal government began resorting to leasing the space out for late night parties, and on Easter Sunday morning a young man was stabbed to death outside of the building following an altercation inside at a late night party. The Cluster’s inquiries lead the General Services Administration to send a nationwide alert to review the types of activities that federal offices were being leased for, in order to prevent violent episodes as occurred here.After much effort, the federal government issued a request for inquiries of interest in the building for its revitalization, and at year’s end was reviewing some 20 responses. The Cluster continued to be gravely concerned about nightclub-related violence occurring in and around night time entertainment venues.

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. First Rising Mt. Zion Baptist Church at 6th & N Streets, N.W. joined the Cluster in 2005, raising the Cluster’s membership to 42 congregations.


2005 Officers

President: Maxine Maye, Lincoln Temple, UCC

Vice President: John Mack, First Congregational Church, UCC

Treasurer: Austin Dandridge, Second Baptist Church

Asst. Treasurer: Anne Schmidt, Epiphany Episcopal Church

Secretary: Jack Womeldorf, Church of the Pilgrims

Asst. Secretary: Jennie Hunt, First Congregational Church, UCC


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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