Urban Missions and Service Experiences for Youth, Adult, and Family Groups




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Washington, DC

Facts and Figures

Washington, DC is home to 601,000 people. 51% of residents are African-American, 38% are Anglo, 9% are Hispanic, and 3.5% are Asian. The homeless population in D.C. is currently estimated between 15,000 and 40,000.

Did You Know That…

Pierre L’Enfant originally designed the city of Washington, but after a falling out with the city fathers, he left and took his plans with him. Benjamin Bannecker, an African-American surveyor and architect who had been assisting L’Enfant, remembered L’Enfant’s plans and used L’Enfant’s basic scheme to design the city.

Washington, DC is a southern city. Culturally, D.C. is “southern” in its atmosphere, politics, interests and relationships.

Washington, DC has struggled with the issue of homelessness since the 1880’s. Between 1860 and 1880, D.C.’s population soared from 40,000 to 120,000. Completely overwhelming the city’s infrastructure, these new arrivals, mostly freed slaves from the former Confederacy, subsisted in severely overcrowded, disease-ridden, and impoverished conditions. D.C.’s first building and health codes were written in 1880 to cope with this crisis.

Because D.C. is a federal district and not a state, it has no voting representation in Congress.

People, Problems, Issue

Since 1989, nearly 100,000 people have moved out of the District. Left behind are the most impoverished segment of the population--with the exception of the high-income residents of the trendy Georgetown neighborhood.

D.C. has a small tax base for its size, due to the fact that the federal government owns much of the land in the district—all of it tax-exempt. This shrunken tax base, combined with the flight of more affluent people to the suburbs, poor management by many district agencies, and other factors, has resulted in D.C. being on the verge of economic meltdown.

Washington, DC spends more money per student than most school districts in the U.S., yet has one of the poorest rates of return on its investment. In the 8th Ward (Anacostia), of every 100 students that start high school, only 13 will graduate on time. They’ll depart with a diploma and an average 4th to 5th-grade reading level.

Insights on the City

by Mark Harmon (Former City Director)

The CapitolWashington, DC is a city of great contrast. It is both our nation’s capitol and a city with great poverty and crime. Its 67 square-mile area contains rich and poor, black and white, young and old, native and alien, homeless and landed-gentry, the powerful and powerless, lawmakers and lawbreakers. Impoverished public housing projects are within blocks of lush neighborhoods where nations of the world house their embassies and consulates.

As in many of our urban areas, the faces and ages of the homeless have changed in the past 20 years. In 1979 and 1980, most of the homeless that I met in Washington were men in their late 50s and early 60s who were alcoholics. Now the homeless men are in their 20s and 30s and they’re addicted to crack, heroin and LSD as well as alcohol. There are also more homeless women and children in and out of shelters around the city.

Another issue that causes great concern in Washington is AIDS. As of 1995, Washington still had the grim distinction of having the highest AIDS rate among U.S. states and territories. The nations capitol had 185.7 AIDS cases per 100,000. As a contrast, North Dakota had the lowest AIDS rate at 0.8 per 100,000.

Experts believe that the rate of HIV infection among teens in the D.C. area is 20 times higher than the national average. As of December 1994, 20% of all cases of AIDS in the metro D.C. area were among 13-19 year olds. One in sixty five new teen mothers in the District of Columbia test positive for the HIV virus. The cumulative total of AIDS patients for the metro area approaches 15,000 persons and almost half have died. Reports indicate that approximately 50,000 are HIV+.

In Washington, we have found an organization that provides freshly prepared meals at no cost to homebound people with HIV/AIDS. Many of their clients are living on or below the poverty level and 73% have incomes of less than $550 per month. They are averaging 55 new client intakes each month. CSM has provided volunteers to prepare the food as well as make deliveries on the 75 delivery routes throughout the metropolitan area.

CSM Ministry Site Sampler

So Others Might Eat (S.O.M.E.) serves breakfast and lunch seven days per week to 500-1,000 persons. S.O.M.E. also provides medical and social services to Washington’s poorest of the poor. CSM groups help with food preparation and distribution.

Martha’s Table runs both a day care center for poor moms as well as a kitchen that prepares food for McKenna’s Wagon, a food-for-homeless program on wheels. McKenna’s vans distribute food to five different locations in D.C. CSM groups help in the day care and kitchen at Martha’s Table.

Bread for the City provides vulnerable residents of Washington, DC, with comprehensive services, including food, clothing, medical care, and legal and social services, in an atmosphere of dignity and respect. CSM groups help in the pantry and whatever other needs there may be, depending on the day.

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