2021 Annual Report
2021 saw trauma and tragedy, as well as hope, for Washington, DC and the country. The year started with the unthinkable - the storming of the US Capitol on Jan. 6th by those intent on overturning the Presidential election results. This tragic event - resulting in the loss of 5 lives - came in the wake of hate crimes against historic African American congregations at the end of 2020 from attendees of "Make America Great Again" rallies.
The pandemic continued - by year's end over 50 million Americans had contracted the disease since the start of the pandemic and over 800,000 had died, including over 1, 200 District residents. Case rates were climbing at year's end as a new variant of the disease arose.
Yet there was hope. Vaccines were begun in 2021 as millions of Americans gained some protection from the disease. Many involved in the Jan. 6th riot were subsequently arrested and arraigned for their actions. As well, many schools, churches, and offices had begun to re-open.
It was in this context of national and local strife that the Downtown Cluster of Congregations and its members sought to serve - to make Washington, DC a better Capital City for the nation.
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Staff of The Downtown Cluster of Congregations' Homeless Services Unit met with over 180 of the city's most vulnerable and homeless residents. Almost 45% 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 theft or violence.
Owing to the on-going pandemic, staff continued to meet the homeless in public areas, e.g., around parks and makeshift shelters in doorways, on church and large buildings' covered porticos as well as elsewhere.
The staff sought to meet the immediate, life-threatening needs facing the homeless - offering over 240 referrals for basic services such as shelter, food, showers, laundry and clothing assistance. Over 170 persons were referred for medical care for physical and behavioral health needs. Over 100 referrals were made for emergency utility and rent assistance, 45 referrals were made for obtaining basic identification documents which are essential for all other services, as well as over 50 referrals were made for either legal aid or immigration assistance.
The staff sought to help the homeless to meet the underlying causes of their situation, assisting with 170 applications for benefits such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, Social Security, Medicaid, and other federal and local benefits with over 120 applications being successful and many more still in process at year's end. Over 25 persons were assisted with job training or job placement referrals. Almost 100 persons were helped in their efforts to find housing or avoid displacement. About 10 persons in abusive situations were assisted.
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. Since its inception, WACIF has loaned over $60 million to local projects and businesses, aiding more than 5,000 community entities and businesses and has helped to create more than 25,000 part time or full time jobs. In 2021 alone it lent almost $10 million in capital in over 20 loans, including $1.2 million in PPP lending with almost 60 PPP loans made.
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The Downtown Cluster of Congregations leads the city in making requests for services 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, etc.). Cluster staff made over 26,000 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 a thousand trees or more 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 100 hazardous sidewalk locations were reported for repair, along with requests for pedestrian striping of crosswalks and repair of curbs and potholes. Over 1,350 requests were made for graffiti removal.. Requests were made with regards to illegal dumping and sanitation enforcement to help the city be cleaner and address its on-going issue of rodent infestation in certain neighborhoods. The Cluster identified to the city several thousand faded to illegible or missing signs for replacement that could impact safety for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and others.
Over 1,100 properties were reported to the city as possibly being vacant as such properties pose numerous safety issues to immediate and nearby neighbors with the goal of having the buildings properly secured and hopefully hasten their return to active use to provide housing, jobs and other services to the neighborhoods they are located in.
The Cluster continued its efforts to have street lights properly working - reporting more than a thousand for repair. Too often violent crimes have occurred in the city on streets where street lights were out. 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 more swiftly identified and repaired.
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Safety was a critical issue in 2021. Unfortunately homicides in the city rose once again, with over 225 killed, a 14% rise over 2020 (198). The city's number of homicides is at its highest level since 2003 when 248 persons were killed. Efforts were made to encourage the city to disclose information on where the guns were coming from and how the gun industry could be held accountable for its role in the city's tragic violence. The Cluster's effort to continue to improve neighborhoods across the city were done to reduce the factors that add to the violence - seeking to having streetlights working, graffiti removed and vacant buildings secured were done with the intention of reducing factors contributing to violence. This effort also included widely distributing information on job fairs.
Both for the January 6th Stop the Steal rally and a later one in September planned in support of those arrested on Jan. 6th, the Cluster called for and obtained added police coverage of local congregations that had been victims of hate crimes during prior rallies protesting the Presidential election results.
Another priority in 2021 was to encourage vaccinations across the city. The Cluster worked with its members and others with the result that a number of congregations served as vaccination sites. Up to date information from public health officials was often distributed to members and the wider community. Also as part of the COVID response the Cluster sent out widely "STAY DC" alerts - on how residents could get aid with up to 3 months on owed rent and utilities as part of the city's COVID response.
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The Executive Director Terry Lynch served on the city's DC State Athletic Commission with a charge to expand and improve athletic opportunities for the city's youth. He was also appointed by Chairman Phil Mendelson to serve on the Foreign Government Owned Real Property Task Force. 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 also continued to serve on the Lead Poisoning Elimination and Healthy Homes Advisory Committee convened by the city's Department of Energy and the Environment.
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The staff consisted of Terrance Lynch, the Executive Director, who has now served the agency for over 35 years; Julie Turner is the Senior Outreach Worker having been with the agency for over 30 years.
The 2021 Officers were:
- President: Maxine Maye - Lincoln Congregational Temple, U.C.C.
- Vice President: Daryl Branson - Shiloh Baptist Church
- Treasurer: Annesley Schmidt - Epiphany Episcopal Church
- Assistant Treasurer: Chuck Hicks - Greater New Hope Baptist Church
- Secretary: Jean Grier, First Church of Christ, Scientist
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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