2013 Annual Report
2013 was a year of political turmoil. Washington, D.C., possibly more than any other city, was negatively impacted by the "sequester" - the partial closing of the federal government as Congress failed to agree on a budget. Many were affected - from unpaid federal employees to the many service industry workers who support those working at federal agencies. The political discord continued with the troubled start of the Affordable Health Care Act ....resulting in further divisive national debate.
Locally, political discord also marked the city as four City Councilmembers announced runs for Mayor, joined by several other candidates and finally towards year end the Mayor announcing his bid for re-election. City Hall was still reeling under the cloud of investigation into the 2010 Mayoral race with several top campaign aides of the Mayor having plead guilty to misdeeds in that election, combined with the guilty pleas in the past year by the prior City Council Chairman, a Ward Councilmember, and a recently sitting At-Large Councilmember. So too the city's population grew more divided - especially between the young and old, the wealthy and poor, new arrivals and long-time residents. Some 1,000 people moved into the city monthly, and often more affluent than many long-time residents. Housing costs soared in the city. Yet despite the economic boom, tens of thousands remained unemployed. While 2 Walmart stores opened, the company reported some 23,000 people applied for the 800 available jobs. It was in this context of political division and economic divide, of seemingly resurgent wealth and yet entrenched poverty, that the Downtown Cluster of Congregations and its members sought to meet needs.
[ top ]
For a number of years the Cluster has reported on public space issues to improve safety, restore the city's tree canopy, and seek the repair and cleaning of graffiti-marred equipment. This year over 1,000 items were reported. This included dozens of streetlights for repairs; requesting trees to be planted in empty tree boxes, that dangerous dead limbs or trees be trimmed or removed, that vacant buildings be inspected and made secure, abandoned vehicles be removed, privately owned utility boxes in public spaces be cleaned of graffiti (along with US Postal boxes), as well as seeing that public pedestrian crossings were clearly painted and marked. The staff's requests also resulted in long overdue repairs being done to historic Ellington Bridge (masonry and drainage repairs, graffiti removal, rust treatment and re-painting) and the reconstruction of long neglected alleys serving both residents and small businesses. These efforts were undertaken to help affected neighborhoods be cleaner and safer for youth, residents, businesses and visitors.
[ top ]
The region's population of the "literally" homeless was over 11,500 according to the Council of Government's one day survey taken in January - of which over 6,800 were DC residents - a 10% increase since 2009. There were almost 1,000 homeless families in the city, and almost 2,000 homeless children. The number of persons in homeless families in DC was up over 33% since 2009.
In this context, the Homeless Services Unit continued to operate - serving those who were already homeless, as well as those in grave danger of it. The team of Outreach Workers as well as graduate student interns from Gallaudet University rotated between a dozen 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 almost 1,200 persons - women were 1/3rd of those served. The staff provided over 1,100 emergency aid referrals for food, clothing, and shelter. The team was able to provide in-depth case-management services to more than 125 persons as well as aid in making over 300 applications for Food Stamps, Social Security Benefits, Medicaid, and other assistance. About 2/3rds of these applications were successful; while numerous others were pending at year's end. About 70 persons were referred for substance abuse treatment. Over 90 persons were referred for mental health treatment, of which 55 received such care. Over 170 persons were referred for general medical care. More than 100 applications were made for transitional and permanent housing, of which 43 persons were placed into such housing. Almost 200 persons were referred for job training or job placement and more than 90 obtained jobs and/or training.
The team also provided service listings to member congregations to refer the homeless - for meals, shelter, emergency medical and psychiatric response, showers and laundry, daytime centers and hypothermia alert hotlines.
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.
Once again the Downtown Cluster of Congregation co-sponsored National Homeless Persons' Memorial Day on Dec. 21st, marked by a worship service to remember those homeless who died on the street across the country - due to violence, weather, and other traumas heightened by their homelessness.
[ top ]
The Cluster sought to address a number of citywide issues to improve the quality of life for all residents and aid those in need. For example, the Cluster's member congregations and clergy continued to be leading advocates for restoring in-person visitation at the DC Jail - which had been summarily stopped in the prior year as a cost saving measure by the DC Government. This affects some 2,000 DC families. Local congregations know that strengthening family and social ties is critical to those who are incarcerated to maintain themselves while in jail and to succeed upon re-entry into the community.
When the city reported surplus revenues, the Cluster and its members sought increased funding for programs that impact the city's neediest residents. In part through this effort almost $10 million was re-programmed for Emergency Rental Assistance, Interim Disability Assistance, Rapid Re-Housing for homeless families, local rental supplements, and permanent supportive housing. Several thousand families were directly assisted through these increases.
The Cluster distributed widely through its member congregations and others information on job fairs, health screenings, adoption opportunities and new affordable housing lotteries.
The Executive Director called for a change in leadership at the troubled D.C. Fire Department which also oversees ambulance services. The agency was racked all year with stories of equipment breakdowns, staffing and deployment controversies, and lack of timely responses.
The Executive Director called on the city to improve its repair and modernization of parks and schools. The backlog of service requests was in the hundreds, and long delays in both repairs and modernizations were found at many locations, particularly those located east of Rock Creek Park. Per the staff's requests, bars were removed from windows at Bancroft Elementary School in Mt. Pleasant, and the historic plaza and grand entry were restored and re-opened at Oyster Adams Middle School. A request was made to move up the modernization of Benjamin Banneker H.S. - a magnet high school serving predominantly minority students coming from all 8 wards. A civil rights complaint was filed at year's end with the federal Department of Education to investigate the restricted handicapped access at the school - being a 1930's building with no elevator and hence no access to 3 of its 4 floors.
[ top ]
The Cluster supported the efforts of the 50th Anniversary March On Washington Committee. Congregations, schools and Universities rang their bells at 3:00 pm in commemoration of the moment of the famous "Let Freedom Ring" speech of Dr. Martin Luther King, coordinating that effort with the King Center as part of the national commemoration of the March. So too, Cluster clergy joined in with the call for a new name for the Washington professional football team, calling upon both the owner and the NFL to change the name. The Downtown Cluster of Congregations had urged such action over a decade earlier.
[ top ]
The Cluster continued to strongly support this community lending fund it helped to establish over 25 years ago. In 2013 WACIF made 20 loans totaling almost $1.5 million to small businesses and also assisted with 9 home renovations and upgrades for senior and low income residents in Prince George's County. The Fund worked with over 900 prospective and existing businesses. Since its founding, it has closed over 300 loans totaling close to $25 million, and has helped to leverage over $150 million in financing for low and moderate income housing, new small businesses and non-profit agencies. It has assisted over 2,500 small businesses, helping to create more than 1,400 full and part time jobs. It has supported the development and preservation of over 1,500 affordable housing units and 44 community-based facilities in the area during its years of operation.
[ top ]
The Cluster welcomed four new members in 2013 - All Nations Baptist Church (2001 North Capitol Street, NE), Galbraith A.M,E. Zion Church (1114 6th Street, NW), Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church (8th & N Streets, NW); and Volunteers of America, Chesapeake which operates in Maryland, D.C., and Virginia.
[ top ]
A listing of Directors is available upon request. The Downtown Cluster of Congregations is independently audited annually. Such audits are available upon request.
[ top ]