Downtown Cluster of Congregations

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2011 Annual Report

2011 was a year of on-going challenges locally amidst turbulent events nationally and globally. While deemed strong in comparison to other cities, high unemployment and difficult economic times persisted in Washington, D.C. and the region. Some city neighborhoods saw unemployment rates as high as 30%. The city's elected leadership seemed hamstrung by investigations into the campaign of Mayor Gray and expenditures by City Councilmembers. "Occupy Wall Street" and "Occupy DC" spread to cities and other countries as people expressed their dissatisfaction, particularly their economic hard times, to corporate America and to political leaders. Tragically wars continued in Afghanistan and Iraq, with many U.S. casualties. The tenth Anniversary of 9/11, when the region itself suffered the tragic plane crash into the Pentagon, was remembered.

It was in this context - being the capital city for a country that was challenged by prolonged wars abroad and economic upheavals and strong dissatisfaction with the economy both locally and nationally, as well as a lack of confidence in political leaders - that member congregations and clergy tried to reach out and serve their members and the broader community.

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Community Services

The Downtown Cluster of Congregations provides timely information to member congregations and other community groups on needed services. For example, this year as in past years it distributed information on events designed to provide mortgage and financial aid counseling, physical and mental health screening, drug and alcohol treatment and awareness training, and job fair events amongst other services.

The Cluster partnered with Safe Shores - The DC Children's Advocacy Center - along with Children's National Medical Center, the Metropolitan Police Department, the National Children's Alliance, and others to sponsor awareness seminars to prevent child sexual abuse. The forums were meant to increase knowledge and awareness of the problem and to protect children and prevent such abuse.

Due to its budget constraints, the city government sought to further cut library services, and Mayor Gray proposed eliminating all Sunday operating hours. The staff of the Cluster, citing the on-going literacy crisis facing the community, and that Sundays were often the day families had off and could take their children to libraries, urged the Mayor to reconsider. Fortunately the Martin Luther King Library hours were restored though the Cluster continued to press for having neighborhood libraries re-opened on Sundays as well.

The Cluster continued its summer program of "Clean and Green" using local students to survey neighborhoods for diseased and dead trees to be marked for removal and replacement. Hundreds of trees were referred for inspection to city agencies to insure they were better maintained or removed and replaced if need be. Tragically a morning jogger was killed on a street by Rock Creek Park owing to a tree branch falling, highlighting the need for better tree maintenance. As well, the agency reported to federal and city agencies tree grates that were too small for now grown trees and were damaging them; many were repaired at the Cluster's request - such as a half dozen metal grates damaging mature trees in front of the FBI Headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

The Cluster also reported items such as graffiti on postal boxes to the U.S. Postal Service. Staff referred dozens of graffiti-marred publisher boxes to local agencies to have those companies clean or repair their boxes. Often the graffiti was related to gangs seeking to assert control over certain streets or neighborhoods.

Staff of the Cluster helped to organize and channel community concern regarding the tragic shooting of a mentally ill Haitian immigrant in Mt. Pleasant. Mental health agencies had been called to try to arrange services for him, but when he resisted police were called, resulting in a standoff where the man shut himself in his apartment and then was fatally shot by SWAT Team members when they stormed his home. The Cluster organized a vigil in the community, and worked with mental health providers to seek reform in how police and city agencies interact and provide services to those challenged by mental illness. A local law firm is now working with the victim's family as the Cluster continues to seek to improve police training on this issue.

The Downtown Cluster of Congregations worked with local emergency assistance staff to shed light on the need for repairs to many ambulances in the city's fleet, e.g. many lacked working cooling systems during the summer's hottest days. These and other basic repairs were sought.

The Downtown Cluster of Congregations also opposed city efforts to initiate "I-Gaming".....internet gambling as a means to raise revenues.

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Homeless Outreach

The region's daily homeless population was almost 12,000 according to the Council of Government's one day survey taken in January - of which over 6,500 were DC residents. Nationally, census figures showed almost 1 in 6 Americans was living in poverty - over 46 million people. The unemployment rate for DC youth was far higher than national figures, with thousands of young persons neither in school nor employed. These harsh economic realities are what caused persons and families of all backgrounds to often turn for aid to member congregations.

The Homeless Services Unit of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations served those who were already homeless, and increasingly those in grave danger of it. The Unit has 3 full time Outreach Workers. The staff - Julie Turner, Juan Benavides, and Sharon Alston - have been in their positions for close to 25, 20, and 15 years respectively - making them the most experienced outreach team in the city. As well, two of the staff have earned their Master's degree, and one a Doctorate, in Social Work. It is owing to their experience, training, and their bi-lingual, multi-cultural capacity, that the Unit continues to achieve significant results even in the midst of increased demands and fewer resources.

The team rotated between a dozen, primarily congregation-based sites, as well as canvassed parks, commercial areas, and other public spaces, where the homeless live. The staff worked out of service-based congregations stretching from Capitol Hill, through Chinatown and downtown, to Foggy Bottom, Dupont Circle, Columbia Heights, and on to upper Northwest, where many homeless live on the edges of Rock Creek Park which runs through the Northwest section of the city.

Overall, the staff saw 1170 persons - 351 women and 819 men. Women were 1/3rd of those served. The staff provided over 1500 emergency aid referrals for food, clothing, and shelter. The team was able to provide in-depth case-management services to almost 200 persons as well as aid in making over 600 applications for Food Stamps, Social Security Benefits, Medicaid, and other assistance. Almost 500 of these applications were successful; numerous others are pending. Over 100 persons were referred for substance abuse treatment, of which 52 received treatment. 164 persons were referred for mental health treatment, of which over 90 received such care. Over 260 persons were referred for general medical care. More than 200 applications were made for transitional and permanent housing, of which 51 persons were placed into such housing. 265 persons were referred for job training or job placement and 170 obtained jobs and/or training.

The staff also assisted local congregations with training on how to respond to requests for assistance. A training workshop was arranged that included mental health experts and other government personnel to help staff and volunteers to best know how to respond to the broad array of needs and situations they were facing. Lists of services such as free shower and laundry facilities, grocery and food programs, were distributed not only to member congregations but congregations citywide.

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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Vacant Properties

The Cluster continued its efforts to get large, vacant properties back into productive use. It urged the revitalization of the Franklin School and Webster School, both located in downtown Washington and both vacant for decades. It urged that the federal government also put out for bid the Old Post Office Pavilion - only partially occupied for years. The hope was that a major hotel might be able to restore and reinvigorate the apace, bringing in hundreds of new jobs to the local economy as unemployment was the dominant issue facing so many families in the city.

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Washington Area Community Investment Fund

The Cluster continued to strongly support the community lending fund it helped to establish over 20 years ago. The Fund continued to provide counseling to many small businesses, homeowners, and non-profits in the midst of the on-going banking and lending crisis. It continued to make loans to businesses to help generate jobs. Over its history it has made hundreds of loans for buying and rehabilitating affordable housing, making thousands of units available for low-income households and special needs groups.

In 2011 the Fund specifically worked on numerous "green initiatives" - helping low and moderate homeowners to realize cost and energy savings by supporting energy efficient upgrades as well as safety improvements. The Fund worked with over 500 clients this year, completed 4 new loans, and helped to create 25 full time jobs in the metro area .....the fund has now completed over 250 loans since its inception.

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Property Forum

Many local congregations are faced with properties that are not green, lack handicap access, or have very aged systems - be it heating, roofs, organs, or other major structural items - that are both costly to replace or update and inhibit effective ministry. Their physical buildings often present real obstacles to congregations accomplishing their mission. The staff organized a real estate property forum for congregations from around the city on how a number of local congregations have updated their facilities and expanded their array of users to better express and embody their mission.

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Special Recognition

The Cluster welcomed 2 new members in 2011. The Greater Mt. Calvary Holy Church joined and became the Cluster's first member congregation located in NE Washington and Central Union Mission, founded over 100 years ago by Calvary Baptist Church, also joined

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2011 Officers

President: Maxine Maye, Lincoln Temple, UCC

Vice President: Ron Linton, St. Matthew's Cathedral

Treasurer: Annesley Schmidt, Epiphany

Secretary: Jennie Hunt, First Congregational Church

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Executive Director: Terrance Lynch; Senior Outreach Worker: Julie Turner; Associate Outreach Worker: Juan Carlos Benavides; and Associate Outreach Worker: Sharon Alston.

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Directors and Financial Reports

A listing of Directors is available upon request. The Downtown Cluster of Congregations is independently audited annually. Such audits are available upon request.

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