Downtown Cluster of Congregations

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2006 Annual Report

 

The year was one that was both the same, and very different, from 2005. The war in Iraq continued through its 4th year, with the number of Americans killed climbing above 3,000. The number of Iraqis killed was estimated to be 30,000 or more for the year alone. The war was the primary issue in the Congressional mid-term elections, in which the Democrats re-claimed control of the House of Representatives and the Senate, and a woman, Nancy Pelosi, was set to become the first Woman Speaker of the House. This national stage of conflict, division and change was mirrored by a change in local administration. A new young Mayor, Adrian Fenty, was overwhelmingly elected in the District of Columbia. While the city government had reclaimed a sense of stability under Mayor Anthony Williams, the majority of the city sought a locally-bred leader who could connect with residents.

The issues facing the city remained daunting. While homicides had fallen, they remained desperately high in many of the poorest neighborhoods. Rates of infection and illness - be it HIV/AIDS, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, and other diseases - remained far above national averages. While parts of the city were quickly gentrifying, persistent poverty continued in many areas and seemed even more dramatic by the contrast with affluent neighborhoods. Over 100,000 DC residents were estimated to be living in poverty by the DC Fiscal Poverty Institute. While the rise in housing costs leveled off, the reality of working families being unable to pay dramatically high housing costs continued to be played out time and again across the city. The state of DC Schools continued to be most troubling, with more schools falling into national categories as underperforming, and more students continuing to leave for Charter schools.

It was in this context of a country at war, a city that while wealthy had as great a division between rich and poor as anywhere in America, that the Downtown Cluster of Congregations and its member congregations felt called upon to provide services and leadership.

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Homeless Outreach

Council of Government studies showed homelessness grew another 6.4% in the Washington region, climbing from 15,439 in 2005 to 16,434 in 2006. Some 4,350 were those in shelter related programs, but some 12,000 plus were not within any support program. Some 3,000 of these are the chronically homeless. The count did not specify the number of children, but in prior years they have been as much as a quarter of the homeless. Many homeless adults were employed. It was in this context that the Homeless Services Unit continued its outreach efforts for the 21st straight year.

This team of 3 full time Outreach Workers rotated between 7 congregation-based sites as well as canvassed parks, commercial areas, and other public spaces where the homeless are found. The staff saw 1530 persons - 437 women and 1093 men. Women were almost 30 % of those served. The staff provided 1600+ emergency aid referrals for food, clothing, and shelter. The team was able to provide follow-up, in-depth case-management services to 216 persons. 573 applications were made for Food Stamps, Social Security Benefits, Medicaid, and other assistance. Over 390 of these applications were successful; numerous others are pending. 190 persons were referred for substance abuse treatment, of which 97 received treatment. 162 persons were referred for mental health treatment, of which 82 actually received such care. 385 persons were referred for general medical care. Almost 150 applications were made for transitional and permanent housing, of which 38 persons were placed into such housing. 231 persons were referred for job training and placement, of which 82 obtained jobs, and 46 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.

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Washington Area Community Investment Fund (WACIF)

The Downtown Cluster of Congregations - an initial founder of this low-income community loan fund -further increased its investment in WACIF in 2006 in order to help purchase and rehabilitate affordable housing, start small businesses, and expand child care opportunities. The Fund’s overall loan capacity was close to $5 million, coming from 77 investors such as the Cluster. At year’s end it had 18 loans out totaling $2.8 million. Since the Fund’s inception it has made over 200 loans, leveraged over $100 million in other loan capital, made possible the purchase and rehabilitation of over 1,000 housing units, aided over 135 small businesses, and helped to create 430 full and part time jobs across the region.

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Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Library Task Force

The Executive Director served on Mayor Anthony Williams’ Library Task Force which developed plans for the revitalization of D.C.’s 26 branch facilities and the Central Library. By year’s end the Task Force’s 2 year effort was highlighted by the release of its Final Report, urging the overhaul of both the city’s branch libraries and building of a new Central Library at the Old Convention Center site. The Task Force’s recommendations were being debated by the City Council. Temporary facilities had opened where branch libraries had previously been closed, and "wifi" service had been added to all branch libraries, except the Deanwood kiosk branch.

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Pedestrian Safety

The Cluster continued to be a leader in pedestrian safety in the city in 2006, following a 60% rise in fatalities in 2005. There was a sudden spate of 5 such deaths in 8 days in early February in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia. The Executive Director participated in an emergency meeting of planners to improve safety patrols by officers and engineering changes to those streets presenting the gravest dangers in SE.

So too, there was an increase in the number of pedestrians killed in bus related accidents. Owing to a request from the Cluster, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) began both posting and broadcasting safety messages - on buses, trains, and in metro stations. WMATA also met with school officials at the Cluster’s urging and committed its 2007 regional school poster campaign to be on the issue of pedestrian safety. WMATA promised to expand information and educational opportunities to public school children to try to improve awareness and safety at the earliest ages and with some of the most at-risk groups.

The Cluster also surveyed pedestrian conditions around construction sites in the city. Following city inspection, over 60% of the sites were ordered to have pedestrian safety improvements. One major construction site taking up an entire city block was shut down owing to an expired public space permit. Safety improvements were ordered in Columbia Heights around the major development projects there - actions such as widening pedestrian walk ways to allow handicapped access, closing a truck entrance lane that posed a safety threat, addition of "jersey barriers" to better protect pedestrians, and other measures. These efforts followed prior year successes in garnering "countdown" pedestrian signals being installed at many intersections across the city.

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Church Parking

Parking became a highly publicized issue in the spring, owing to "double parking" around churches on Sundays that blocked in other cars. At one point, the Mayor was set to issue a citywide enforcement of "no double parking" on Sundays. The Executive Director lead negotiations between residents and churches in the Logan Circle area, that resulted in the addition of over 150 new on-street parking spaces on Sunday, achieved the opening of nearby public and privately operated parking facilities, and eliminated double parking situations along Vermont Avenue and 11th Street, N.W. The Reeves Garage was opened to free parking for nearby Churchgoers on Sundays. The issue was primarily impacting historic African American congregations in the Shaw area. Vermont Avenue Baptist, Lincoln Temple U.C.C. and other congregations benefited greatly from the Cluster’s assistance. The Cluster’s efforts resulted in implementation of practical solutions - angled parking, use of previously closed lots, inclusion of available median lanes for Sunday parking - that benefited churchgoers and residents alike in the Logan Circle area and elsewhere.

The Cluster also helped to improve the repair of parking meters - notorious for being broken. Many persons visiting congregations, as well as stores or other services, would receive tickets at broken meters. At the Cluster’s behest thousands of meters were repaired, the glass domes which were difficult to read replaced on almost all meters, new "smart meters" were installed in Adams Morgan, and increased and improved maintenance occurred.

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Streetlights & Safety

The Cluster surveyed streetlights at night and found over 150 streetlights broken in the central business area and around the Verizon Center, a prime nighttime destination area. It was shortly after this survey that worldwide news was made of assaults on the Mall, just south of where the streetlights were reported out, of robberies and sexual assaults on visitors and tourists. These dangerous conditions and increased thefts and assaults had already been on the rise in the surrounding area. Owing to the Cluster’s efforts, the reported lights were fixed, and the government conducted a citywide survey of streetlights - finding some 2,000 streetlights broken and instituted a repair of all of them. However, given the aging systems and infrastructure of many of the lights - parts of the system being as old as 100 years, the breakdown rate will remain high until a comprehensive modernization occurs.

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Community Services

The Downtown Cluster of Congregations helped to disseminate as broad as possible numerous public service notices. It sent to its members postings on lead safety fairs, suicide prevention efforts, utility discount programs for qualifying households, public hearings on homelessness, a conference on enslavement for domestic servitude and forced prostitution, as well as other opportunities for involvement and awareness by members of its various congregations.

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Community Voice Mail

In partnership with the D.C. Central Kitchen, the Cluster helped to launch a new community voice mail program, making available voice mail boxes to persons enrolled in employment and social service programs. The voice mail system aids persons in their job and housing searches by providing a private number at which messages can be left for them, using a system that exists in numerous cities across the country. The mailboxes are rotated to new users as others succeed in re-gaining their independence.

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Graffiti Cleanup & Payphone Repair

The Cluster, as it has for a number of years, called upon the US Postal Service, WMATA, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, and payphone operators to clean graffiti-scarred property. Hundreds of pieces of equipment were cleaned, primarily of gang-related messages and "tags". Gangs have used graffiti to try to recruit members and "mark" territory.

The DC Public Service Commission as well at the Cluster’s behest continued annual inspections of payphones, and found literally thousands of violations by payphone companies - costing consumers and the public. The Commission ordered repairs citywide - on issues such as how to garner refunds, file complaints, to repair non-working lines, cleaning the equipment, and listing the owners of the payphones and rates of calling - all important consumer protections.

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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 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. Vermont Avenue Baptist Church and Wisconsin Avenue Baptist Church joined the Cluster in 2006, raising the Cluster’s membership to 43 congregations.

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2006 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, Presbyterian
Asst. Secretary: Jennie Hunt, First Congregational Church, UCC

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Staff

Executive Director: Terrance Lynch
Senior Outreach Worker: Julie Turner
Associate Outreach Worker: Juan Carlos Benavides
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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