2007 Annual Report
2007 was a year of change for the city locally, while as the nation’s capital it featured debate on future leadership of the country as a whole. A young new Mayor, Adrian Fenty, took office promising to fix major issues - schools, safety, and services. The new Mayor was able to garner direct control of D.C. Public Schools, and made the state of schools the number one priority of his administration. He brought in the city’s first woman Police Chief - Cathy Lanier - and sought to expand “community policing”. Yet neither school reform nor public safety would be easily achieved, as the city’s number of homicides rose from 169 in 2006 to at least 181 in 2007. The public was shocked by the tragic murder of 4 children of one family, and questions were raised on how the city’s Child and Family Services Division, and its public and charter schools, lost contact with the children and the family. So too, the city’s finances, though overall seemingly strong despite huge deficits in surrounding jurisdictions, were rocked by the alleged embezzlement of tens of millions of dollars from the City’s Office of Property Tax Assessment. Other critical issues of basic health care, affordable housing, and jobs continued to challenge the city’s residents and the well-being of its neighborhoods.
Nationally, debate continued over the war in Iraq and the seemingly stepped up violence in Afghanistan along with growing concerns about possible conflict with Iran. A surge of additional troops was added to those already in Iraq, and the city was inundated by political debate by the candidates seeking their parties’ nominations.
It was in this context of change and debate over fundamental issues, both local and national, that member congregations found themselves as they continued to seek to provide services to the broad spectrum of residents, workers, and visitors to the nation’s capital city.
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Council of Government studies showed homelessness actually fell 6.5% in 2007 for Washington, D.C., from 6,157 in 2006 to 5,757 in 2007. This number of homeless represents almost 50% of the homeless in the region, which was estimated at 12,126 overall. Permanent housing placements in the city grew as well, from 3,212 in 2006 to 3,542 in 2007. There continued to be great concern about the number of working poor who were homeless - some 25% of homeless individuals in the region were employed and 43% of adults in homeless families were employed. Hence the ability to find affordable housing remained a primary issue in the region. There also remained great concern over the number of homeless who are veterans. The National Alliance to End Homelessness reported a quarter of the homeless population in the country were veterans, and that 7.5% of the nearly 32,000 veterans in the city were homeless - making DC one of the highest such rates in the country. The study showed 2,400 homeless veterans in DC in 2005. It was in this context that the Homeless Services Unit continued its outreach efforts for the 21st straight year.
This team of 3 Outreach Workers rotated between 8 congregation-based sites as well as canvassed parks, commercial areas, and other public spaces where the homeless are found. The staff saw 1365 persons - 404 women and 961 men. Women were 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 190 persons. 700+ applications were made for Food Stamps, Social Security Benefits, Medicaid, and other assistance. Over 530 of these applications were successful; numerous others are pending. Over 200 persons were referred for substance abuse treatment, of which 92 received treatment. Over 150 persons were referred for mental health treatment, of which 86 actually received such care. 373 persons were referred for general medical care. 350 applications were made for transitional and permanent housing, of which 80 persons were placed into such housing. 379 persons were referred for job training and placement, of which 121 obtained jobs, and 118 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 - has $150,000 invested in WACIF, part of its overall loan capacity of over $4 million dollars. The Cluster is one of 70+ investors. In 2007 the Fund continued its efforts of loans to make possible affordable housing, small and micro-business opportunities, and expansion of day care facilities. The Fund provided technical assistance to over 200 individuals and small businesses, helped create over 40 new full time jobs, held 30 seminars and 15 loan days in partnership with community and bank partners, and in addition to its own 10 loans, helped to make possible 12 traditional bank loans totaling over $1.3 million and 8 Small Business Association loans . The Fund’s activities helped to establish 90 additional child care slots for low-income children, and helped over 30 center-based providers receive technical assistance. The fund attended numerous community outreach days, and held the inaugural Financial and Credit Literacy Day at Gallaudet. University.
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.
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A January fire tragically killed an elderly Petworth woman who was living in her home without electricity for at least a year. In the aftermath of the fire, the Cluster pressed for expediting outreach to those in need, by urging utility companies to share information with city assistance officials’ on who was without service so home visits could be made to offer aid. The City conducted door to door, block by block outreach to let residents know about utility assistance programs. Some 20,000 District residents applied for utility aid this past winter. The Cluster also urged the city to provide utility assistance regardless of Social Security numbers, which had been a condition of aid. Utility companies also stepped up their outreach to families without service, sending letters and calling to alert them of possible aid.
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The Cluster continued to be a leader in pedestrian safety in the city in 2007. Tragically, the city reached a 10 year high in pedestrian fatalities, with 25 persons killed, surpassing the 24 deaths reported in 1997. A number of deaths in the city and region were tied to Metrobus accidents.
In response to requests in part from the Cluster, WMATA installed a number of improved technology devices on many vehicles, to alert drivers to nearby pedestrians, as well as to make the buses more visible, with strobe lights across the top fronts of buses. WMATA also began running pedestrian safety messages on buses and the Metro intercom, and also developed reflector badges that could be distributed to area schools for children to use with their backpacks. A “safe back to school” event was held at J.F. Cook Elementary, a block off of North Capitol Street, featuring the new School Chancellor, MPD officers, and WMATA officials stressing the important message of getting to and from school safely. This event came in response to the tragic death of a 6 year old boy the prior February on his way to Bunker Hill Elementary School in Ward 5.
A Master Pedestrian Plan, to highlight best practices that can be implemented with regards to education of drivers and pedestrians, improved engineering, and enforcement practices, was slated to come out in early 2008.
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The Cluster called on the National Park Service to step up both patrols and maintenance of the numerous small park areas under its jurisdiction in the city. A number of these smaller parks, many of which are poorly maintained, have become sites for frequent crimes, inclusive of robberies, drug dealing, and prostitution. A number of these parks need improved night time lighting, as well as landscaping and regular cleaning to make them useable by residents and visitors during the day.
The Cluster also assisted D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier to obtain new “collateral books” for distribution to all MPD officers. By requesting the help of different agencies, the Cluster was able to garner updated fines / penalties and citations that officers could use related to vehicle violations - such as speeding, or failure to stop at crosswalks. The Chief cited the Director for his community service. The books had not been issued to D.C.’s officers in over a decade when the Cluster intervened to help obtain a new printing.
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Graffiti Cleanup & Payphone Repair
The Cluster, as it has for a number of years, called upon the US Postal Service, payphone operators and businesses to clean up graffiti. 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 equipment cleaned, such as blue postal boxes and payphones, stretched across the city from Northwest to Southeast D.C. The DC Public Service Commission at the Cluster’s behest continued annual inspections of payphones, resulting in payphones being cleaned, repaired, or those that were operating illegally and often charging exorbitant fees, to be removed. Officials considered increased gang activity to be responsible in part for the rise in the number of homicides.
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Aid to Small Business
The Cluster continued to try to work with and support small businesses, which employ high percentages of D.C. residents and provide an array of vital retail services to District residents. It worked directly with small business owners along P Street, N.W. that were facing possible closure owing to prolonged street repairs. The same was occurring for small business along Connecticut Avenue. Businesses found their customers couldn’t park, and that their sidewalks were blocked, literally preventing their customers from coming in. The Executive Director helped to arrange for alternate parking, speed D.C. Department of Transportation work schedules, urged governmental aid to small businesses during construction, and sought improved coordination between city agencies when tearing up roads - be it for road repair, water pipe replacement, or wiring purposes. The situation small businesses faced was similar to impacts from the Metro construction.
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Support for Congregations' Facilities in the City
The Cluster submitted testimony in support of the effort of Third Church of Christ, Scientist to build a new sanctuary. The city’s Historic Preservation Review Board designated the 1971 “brutalist” design building as a landmark at year’s end, blocking the church from moving forward with a new, more appropriately designed worship facility.
The Cluster also testified on behalf of Soka Gokkai congregation, a Buddhist Temple, to allow construction of its facility on Massachusetts Avenue, N.W. A number of residents in the area had opposed the building’s moving forward claiming it was a community center under zoning and not a house of worship.
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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 go 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.
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President: Maxine Maye, Lincoln Temple, UCC
Vice President: John Mack, First Congregational Church, UCC
Treasurer: Austin Dandridge, Second Baptist Church
Asst. Treasurer: Annesley Schmidt, Epiphany Episcopal Church
Secretary: Jack Womeldorf, Church of the Pilgrims, Presbyterian
Asst. Secretary: Jennie Hunt, First Congregational Church, UCC
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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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