2019 Annual Report
2019 was another year of stark division both for the country and the city - despite the seemingly on-going success of the economy, or perhaps exacerbated by the divisions such wealth creates. Nationally, the year ended with the historic impeachment of President Trump, where bitter partisanship between the national parties and the leadership of both parties seemed intractable. Locally, the DC City Council acted to expel its longest serving member Councilmember Jack Evans over numerous allegations of ethical violations.
Tragically for the 2nd straight year the city's homicide toll rose with the city recording 166 homicides - the highest number recorded in over a decade. A dozen victims were children ages 11 to 17. Many neighborhoods on the city's west side seemed untouched by the violence, which tragically seemed to be an almost daily occurrence on the city's east side. The deadly violence locally mirrored tragic violence that occurred across the country. As the year drew to a close there was yet more violence at religious events with a deadly shooting at a Texas church and a knife attack at the home of a rabbi celebrating Hanukkah services.
It was in this context of division at many levels, rural and urban, black and white, rich and poor, often pitting nationalities and religions against each other, that the Downtown Cluster of Congregations and its members sought meaningful ways to provide healing and a different vision for the future.
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The Cluster's Homeless Services Unit met with over 300 of the city's most vulnerable needy and homeless residents. Almost 50 per cent were women. Most of those served were at high risk of being victims of theft or physical or sexual assault ... women, the elderly, those suffering from mental illness, as well as other conditions. Many of those served had already been victims of violence.
The staff sought to meet the immediate, life-threatening needs facing the homeless - offering over 145 referrals for basic services such as shelter, food, and clothing. Over 130 persons were referred for medical care for physical and behavioral health needs. Numerous referrals were made for emergency utility and rent assistance, for obtaining basic identification documents which are essential for all other services, as well as legal aid and immigration assistance.
The staff sought to help the homeless to meet the underlying causes of their situation. assisting with over 130 applications for benefits such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, Social Security, Medicaid, or other federal and local benefits with over 100 being successful and many more in process at year's end. Over 20 persons were assisted with job training or job placement referrals. Some 40 persons were helped in their efforts to find housing with 20 persons being placed into new safe housing. Over a dozen persons in abusive situations were assisted and almost a dozen persons were assisted in efforts to prevent their displacement.
The staff helped to edit and distribute Moving Forward, a resource guide for making referrals for emergency services, medical care, shelter and housing, employment and other services for those in need or who are homeless. This referral resource is used extensively by local congregations in providing referrals to persons in need.
The purpose of the Unit's work is to meet life-threatening emergency needs, while seeking to break the cycle of homelessness by addressing underlying causes - to restore people and families back to lives of self-reliance and independent living.
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For over 30 years WACIF has leveraged the funds of investors - such as the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, a founding member of WACIF and its leading investor - to help develop affordable housing, daycare and community-serving programs, and to encourage and expand small and minority-owned businesses. WACIF currently has over $6 million in assets. In 2019, Wacif closed on 20 loans totaling over $1,300,000, helping to create over 39 new jobs. Since its inception, WACIF has assisted over 4000 small businesses, helping to create or sustain more than 1,500 full and part time jobs. Thanks in no small part to the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, WACIF was named the 2019 Nonprofit Organization of the Year by the DC Chamber of Commerce and the DC Department of Small and Local Business Development. In recognition of the example it sets for programming nationwide, WACIF's Ascend Capital Accelerator won the SunTrust Foundation's Lightng the Way Award alongside 34 other outstanding programs across the country. WACIF has previously been recognized by the Catalogue for Philanthropy as one of the best nonprofits in the region for its effective work in creating economic opportunity and supporting individuals and families throughout the region. Since its inception WACIF has closed on over 450 loans.
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The Downtown Cluster of Congregations leads the city in making requests for service to help make neighborhoods safer by use of the city's 311 system. These are in addition to requests it makes to federal agencies for services (e.g. - National Park Service for care of its numerous parks and the US Postal Service for graffiti removal on postal boxes). Cluster staff made over 22,000 requests for services impacting all corners of the city - for the planting of trees, repair of hazardous sidewalks, clearing of graffiti, removal of trash, helping to identify vacant buildings as well as other services. The Cluster requested the planting of over 1,400 trees in public spaces as well as a similar number of requests for the pruning of hazardous dead limbs and the removal of dead trees. Over 500 hazardous sidewalk locations were reported for repair, along with requests for pedestrian re-striping of crosswalks and repair of curbs and potholes. Over 2,000 requests were made for graffiti removal. Over 1,000 requests were made with regards to illegal dumping and sanitation enforcement to help the city be cleaner and address its on-going issue of rat infestation in certain neighborhoods. The Cluster identified to the city almost 6,000 faded to illegible or missing signs for replacement that could impact safety for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and others.
Over 1,700 properties were reported to the city as possibly vacant as such properties pose numerous safety issues to immediate and nearby neighbors ...the goal being to have the buildings properly secured and hopefully speed up their return to active use to provide housing, jobs and other services to the neighborhoods they are located in.
The Cluster continued its effort begun in 2016 to have street lights properly working - reporting almost 1000 for all types of repair. The agency's Executive Director continued to call on the city to replace its decades old electrical grid system with smart lighting so non-operating lights can be immediately identified and repaired.
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The Cluster worked on an array of issues to assist local congregations to continue to operate successfully in the city. Many congregations have aging facilities with dwindling membership - the key has been to aid congregations to find new compatible uses that can provide an income stream to allow them to modernize their worship facility and thereby remain in the city vs. selling and leaving. 2019 saw the successful completion of a new mixed use development for St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Dupont Circle. Such has occurred previously for First Church of Christ Scientist located at 16th and I Streets NW, and First Congregational Church U.C.C. located at 10th and G Streets NW allowing them to remain in downtown . Each of these projects saw the construction of a new sanctuary allowing for flexible, handicap accessible uses.
Early in 2019 the DC Government required all non-profit agencies and congregations to re-certify their tax-exempt status by submitting on-line often decades old printed certifications ....many of which were needed from federal agencies at the very time the federal government was closed! The Cluster helped to garner an extension of the time for certification and helped organize workshops to assist non-profits and congregations in submitting the needed documents.
The Cluster continued to work on alerting congregations to the many street closings that occur in the city - often disrupting access to worship services. These come from all types of events - national and international gatherings to neighborhood festivals and running events. The Cluster has been successful in working with local city agencies on setting routes and times that minimize disruptions that would otherwise block access to local congregations and worship services.
As well, the Cluster continued its support for operation of metro on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Such hours could have been curtailed or eliminated under proposals that would have extended late night service. Given the system's need for additional time for maintenance and infrastructure repair extending late night hours would have meant closing or curtailing weekend morning hours of operation. Fortunately Saturday and Sunday morning operating hours were maintained.
The Executive Director Terry Lynch and Rev. Karen Curry of Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church served on the city's DC State Athletic Commission with a charge to expand and improve athletic opportunities for the city's youth. Rev. Dr. Kendrick Curry continued his service on the DC Water and Sewer Authority Board of Directors which was engaged in billions of dollars of infrastructure work in overhauling decades old tunnels and addressing the critical function of assuring safe drinking water to all communities.
The Executive Director continued to serve on the Lead Poisoning Elimination and Healthy Homes Advisory Committee convened by the city's Department of Energy and the Environment.
The Executive Director was a frequent commentator in local media on issues impacting the community. The agency issued statements on events of national significance as well, such as the passing of Congressman Ron Dellums.
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The staff consisted of Terrance Lynch, the Executive Director, who has now served the agency for 35 years; Julie Turner is the Senior Outreach Worker having been with the agency for over 30 years.
The 2019 Officers were:
- President: Maxine Maye - Lincoln Congregational Temple, U.C.C.
- Vice President: Rev. Kendrick Curry - Pennsylvania Ave. Baptist Church
- Treasurer: Annesley Schmidt - Epiphany Episcopal Church
- Assistant Treasurer: Daryl Branson - Shiloh 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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