2012 Annual Report
2012 was a year of national political debate, while the city struggled with the recession's effects and political scandal. The Presidential race dominated the news with questions focused on jobs and economic recovery, as well as on how to resolve conflicts abroad. Even upon President Obama's re-election, a sharp political divide continued in the face of the "fiscal cliff". At year's end, the nation was plunged into mourning over the tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. This tragedy sparked debate on both gun control and how to deal with violence in America.
D.C. itself was shocked by the resignations of 2 Councilmembers - including the City Council Chairman - in the wake of federal investigations relating to corruption and fraud. Federal investigations also resulted in charges and guilty pleas by 3 persons associated with the Mayor's 2010 election campaign, and as the year came to a close investigations were on-going. The scandals swirling around the city's elected leaders seemed to slow efforts for improvements by city agencies.
It was in this atmosphere of highly charged national debate, tragic violence, and local political scandal that congregations continued to seek to provide services and address issues of need and concern.
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For a number of years the Cluster has reported on public space issues to improve safety, restore the tree canopy, and seek the repair and cleaning of graffiti-marred equipment. A half dozen student interns worked on the Cluster's behalf to do Clean, Green, and Safe Reports for the neighborhoods of Adams Morgan, Capitol Hill, Cleveland Park, Columbia Heights, Dupont Circle, Foggy Bottom, Petworth, Takoma DC, and elsewhere in the city. The interns as well as staff surveyed areas to list needs facing the community - re-striping and better signage at pedestrian crosswalks, dead trees for removal or noting where empty tree boxes needed new trees planted, listing out equipment such as US Postal Boxes and utility boxes that were defaced with graffiti, reporting street lights that needed repair, as well as other items. Together, the staff and interns requested over 500 tree related services, inclusive of calling for the planting of hundreds of new trees. Over 100 street lights were reported for repair, more than 100 graffiti-marred items and buildings were reported for cleaning, along with hundreds of other service requests for items such as repair and replacement of publisher vending boxes, abandoned vehicle removals, bulk trash removal, replacement and repair of traffic signs, and other items. Not only did these actions enhance neighborhoods across the city, it provided the student interns an opportunity to better know their own and the city's neighborhoods and how to effect positive changes.
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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. There were over 1,000 homeless families in the city, and almost 2,000 homeless children living in the city. Regionally, almost 1/3rd of the homeless were youth. About 20% of homeless single adults were employed.
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 over 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 degrees, 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 congregations stretching from NE Washington, through Chinatown and downtown, to Foggy Bottom, Dupont Circle, Columbia Heights, Mount Pleasant and on to upper Northwest, where many homeless live in bus shelters along Wisconsin Avenue and Connecticut Avenue, and in makeshift shelters on the edges of Rock Creek Park.
Overall, the team saw over 1,100 persons - women were 1/3rd of those served. The staff provided over 1,500 emergency aid referrals for food, clothing, and shelter. The team was able to provide in-depth case-management services to more than 175 persons as well as aid in making almost 700 applications for Food Stamps, Social Security Benefits, Medicaid, and other assistance. About 550 of these applications were successful; while numerous others were pending at year's end. Over 85 persons were referred for substance abuse treatment. Some 200 persons were referred for mental health treatment, of which over 110 received such care. Over 250 persons were referred for general medical care. More than 175 applications were made for transitional and permanent housing, of which over 45 persons were placed into such housing. Over 300 persons were referred for job training or job placement and more than 140 obtained jobs and/or training.
The team also provided training on how to serve and interact with the homeless to the staff of the DC Public Libraries. The city's libraries are
often frequented by the homeless during the day and evenings, and the staff of the libraries need to know best practices and how to refer persons in need to services. Hopefully this will be an on-going relationship between the staff of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations and the DC Public Libraries.
The team also provided basic service listings to member congregations to refer the homeless - be it for showers and laundry services, clothes and groceries, as well as emergency shelter services. Member congregations were asked to share these lists with their members as well as their staff.
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 self-sufficiency.
At year's end, the Cluster co-sponsored the Homeless Persons' Memorial Day along with the National Coalition for the Homeless and others to celebrate and honor those who died in the metro Washington, DC area while experiencing homelessness in 2012.
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The Cluster sought to address a number of citywide issues to improve the quality of life for residents and aid those in need. For example, in July the city government without public hearing ended in-person visits to those held at the DC Jail - many of whom have not yet been convicted of any crime - and allowing only video visitation. The Cluster joined with the DC Catholic Conference and the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs in calling for restoration of in-person visitation at the DC Jail, which houses thousands of men and women. Studies around the country have shown that those who are incarcerated will fare much better and have higher probability of reintegrating into society if they have strong family and social ties....hence the on-going need for in-person visitation. Many of the Cluster's members have prison ministry programs as well as aid those returning to the community.
The Cluster continued to call for expanding hours of operation of the city's libraries. In 2011 the Cluster helped to keep Sunday hours available at the Central MLK Library. The goal is to restore service hours at neighborhood libraries as well on Sundays and weekday evenings. The Cluster's Executive Director served on Mayor Anthony Williams Blue Ribbon Library Task Force which laid out a blue print for revitalizing the city's library facilities and services. With many libraries now modernized, the hope is to make them as available as possible to all members of the community for literacy and learning.
The Executive Director also called for the modernization of the city's police facilities - most of which are aged and have not been improved in decades. The goal is to make them more efficient, smarter, and green, as well as to allow possible mixed use on sites to provide additional public or private services needed by residents and neighborhoods.
The Cluster forwarded to its members and media outlets information on first time home-buying and financial literacy seminars, foster parenting and adoption opportunities, as well as other community events.
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The Cluster continued to strongly support the community lending fund it helped to establish over 25 years ago. Over its history it has made hundreds of loans to help start or expand businesses and create new jobs, buy and rehabilitate affordable housing and thereby make thousands of units available for low-income households and special needs groups. The Cluster is the second largest investor in the fund, encouraging businesses, banks, individuals and others to put their financial resources back into the community to create jobs, support small businesses, and expand affordable housing.
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The Cluster welcomed four new members in 2012 - New Bethany Baptist Church (1300 10th Street, NW) led by Dr. Carson E. Wise, Sr.; Douglas Memorial United Methodist Church (800 11th Street, NE), led by Rev. Dr. Helen Fleming; Mt. Zion Pentecostal Church (1112 N Street, NW) which is between Pastors, and Unity of Washington, DC (1225 R Street, NW), led by Rev. Sylvia Sumter. Calvary Baptist Church (located at 8th & H Streets, NW) celebrated its 150th Anniversary, having been founded during the Civil War with hopes of achieving reconciliation.
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President: Maxine Maye, Lincoln Temple, UCC
Vice President: Rev. Kendrick Curry, Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church
Treasurer: Annesley Schmidt, Epiphany Episcopal Church
Secretary: Jennie Hunt, First Congregational Church
Asst. Secretary: Laura Canfield, Calvary Baptist 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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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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