2014 Annual Report
2014 can be defined as a "Year of Change" for Washington, DC. The city saw new residents, stores and developments occurring in all 8 wards and at a seemingly ever quicker pace. Almost 1,000 new residents were moving into the city each month - often younger, wealthier and more demographically diverse than long-time residents. Almost 60,000 new residents have arrived in DC since 2010 with the city's population reaching almost 660,000 by mid-year. Yet despite the city's apparent overall resurgence, there remained significant divisions and entrenched need in many parts of the city - with many experiencing unemployment, poor quality housing, and the number of families seeking winter shelter surging 50% in one year alone. The city's housing costs, owing to the rapidly growing population, made maintaining or finding affordable housing more and more difficult or out-of-reach altogether for many.
The "Year of Change" was also seen politically. A new Mayor, Muriel Bowser, was elected after a hotly contested primary election against incumbent Mayor Vincent Gray and other challengers in the spring and an equally contested general election in the fall. Several new Councilmembers were also elected, so that the City Council would see 5 new members out of 13 in 2015. The city's "Year of Change" was most notably marked by the passing of Ward 8 City Councilmember and former 4 term Mayor, the honorable Marion Barry.
It was in this context of a changing city, that while seemingly robust prosperity in many parts was directly side-by-side with entrenched poverty, need and neglect, that the Downtown Cluster of Congregations and its members sought to serve the city's residents as well as those working in and visiting the city from around the region, nation, and world.
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The Cluster's Homeless Services Unit - staffed by two Outreach Workers along with MSW graduate student interns - met with the homeless and those in need at locations across the city. By working at or in partnership with a half a dozen congregations, the staff came into contact with many of the city's chronically homeless as well as many of the newly homeless - those coming out of the criminal justice system or experiencing displacement and homelessness for the first time.
Together, the staff saw over 1,000 homeless and needy persons and families - of which about 33% were women. The staff sought to first meet their immediate, life-threatening needs - offering over a thousand referrals for basic services such as shelter, food, and clothing. Some 125 persons were connected with medical care. Over 50 referrals were made for emergency utility, rent or mortgage assistance. Almost 1,000 applications were made for basic ID documents to help assist in garnering essential services. Some 25 persons were assisted with immigration issues, and 40 persons were referred for legal aid.
The staff also sought to help the homeless or needy to meet the underlying causes of their longer term needs. The staff assisted with over 130 applications for benefits such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, Social Security, Medicaid, or other federal and local benefits for which they qualified. Some 75 such applications were successful with many still pending at year's end. Some 125 persons were assisted with getting job training or placement, of which over 80 were successful. About 75 persons were assisted with seeking mental health care, and over 20 with seeking substance abuse treatment. About a dozen families / persons were helped with housing displacement prevention.
The purpose of the Unit's staff was to meet critical, life-threatening emergency needs, while seeking to permanently break the cycle of need by addressing underlying causes - to restore people and families back to lives of self-reliance and independent living.
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The Cluster's staff and volunteer interns made about 4,000 requests for basic services. These consisted of:
- Removal of graffiti from US mailboxes, buildings, bridges, at National Park Service sites, and other locations. Federal and local agencies responded to these requests timely in order to reduce gang-related activity and improve cleanliness across the city.
- Over a 1,000 requests for planting of new trees in public spaces. As well, hundreds of requests for inspections of trees with large dead branches for pruning and removal / replacement as needed to keep public spaces greener, healthier, and safer.
- Repairs were sought of sidewalks, alleys, and streetlights. Many sidewalks had "buckling" issues, making passage hazardous especially for the city's elderly or those with physical challenges. The goal is to make pedestrian access in the city safer for all, and to allow residents to be able to age in place in their own neighborhoods.
- Vacant buildings were reported for inspection. The purpose was to make sure these buildings were properly secured, reduce crime, and by having them properly classified for tax purposes, their owners would be encouraged to return them to active and productive use.
- Numerous vandalized or abandoned vehicles were reported so owners could be contacted and blight removed.
- Trash and debris pick-ups were scheduled to make neighborhood streets and alleys cleaner, more welcoming and less prone to rat infestation.
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The Cluster, a co-founder of the Fund over 25 years ago, is its second largest investor. The fund has over $7 million in capital under its management; it made 16 loans in 2014 totaling over $1 million, to low and moderate income small businesses, affordable housing projects, and other community serving endeavors. Since its inception, the Fund has closed on over 300 loans totaling more that $25 million, helping to leverage over $150 million in other financing as well. The Fund has assisted over 2,500 small businesses, and has helped to create almost 1,500 full and part time jobs. It has also assisted in the development of over 1,500 units of affordable housing and with about 50 community serving projects such as daycare centers.
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The Cluster worked with literacy groups to educate the Mayor and City Council on the lack of library services at the DC Jail which holds over 2,000 persons. Due to this effort, in the fall of 2014 for the first time the city launched a library service at the jail, under the administration of the DC Public Library as urged by the Cluster.
The Cluster's Executive Director had served ten years earlier on Mayor William's Blue Ribbon Library Task Force - which called for the rejuvenation of the city's libraries by modernizing them. Almost all of the city's branch libraries have now been refurbished or are in the process of being modernized - resulting in much brighter, more open and community and patron friendly facilities. The modernization has resulted in a rejuvenation of use of the libraries, and the Cluster's longstanding request for expanded hours and days of operation have been instituted.
The Cluster's Executive Director also served on the Chief Financial Officer's Tax Advisory Group seeking to address the issue of properties lost to longtime homeowners through delinquent tax sales. In addition to urging numerous revisions to longstanding practices, the panel's actions resulted in hundreds of more residents being notified of their qualifying for senior homestead deductions, and the elimination of the loss of homes over delinquent taxes. Many such situations are those of frail elderly not able to negotiate local bureaucracies and the legal system once behind on tax payments. The panel sought to activate city agencies related to seniors and the needy to assist persons and families finding themselves in such situations.
The Cluster successfully worked with the city's wider religious community to call on the City Council to include houses of worship as places, such as daycare facilities, schools and Universities, where concealed weapons are not allowed. This effort sought to continue the long-standing concept of Houses of Worship as sanctuaries, free of the threat of violence and danger.
The Downtown Cluster of Congregations joined homeless service groups in the city to call for amending the DC Human Rights Act to include homelessness as a protected status. If successful, Washington, DC would become the first city in the nation to make it unlawful to discriminate against the homeless in housing, employment, public accommodations and educational institutions.
The Cluster's staff was called upon by business owners and union leaders to verify vote results at several businesses where employees sought union representation.
The Cluster also continued its long tradition of promoting an array of community-service related events. These consist of alerting the 50 member congregations and other religious organizations of events such as foster and adoption awareness events; job fairs; health and wellness clinics, as well as other events.
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The staff consisted of Terrance Lynch, the Executive Director, who was in his 30th year of service to the agency. Julie Turner, MSW, is the Senior Outreach Worker who has served the agency for over 25 years, and Juan Carlos Benavides continued in his role as the Associate Outreach Worker. He has over 20 years of service.
The 2014 Officers were:
- Maxine Maye, President - Lincoln Congregational Temple, U.C.C.
- Rev. Kendrick Curry, Vice President - Pennsylvania Ave. Baptist Church
- Annesley Schmidt, Epiphany Episcopal Church - Treasurer
- Jennie Hunt, First Congregational Church - Secretary
- Laura Canfield, Assistant Secretary - Calvary Baptist Church.
A full 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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