Though I am originally from Maine, I have called Massachusetts, Colorado and North Carolina "home" at various points in my life. Since July, I've been settled in Washington, D.C. and feeling extremely lucky to live here. I'm a program associate at USGLC; an international affairs non-profit organization.
My running partner, Finn, is a 5-year-old German Shepherd/Black lab mix. My husband and I rescued him when he was 3-months-old in Colorado. He loves running, chasing squirrels, and tennis balls!
At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, I was living in Boston and decided to create my own half-marathon to fundraise for a wonderful organization, Friends of Boston's Homeless. As races were canceled, I thought it would be fun to create my own race and have people "sponsor" the run as a way to give back in a time that created difficulties for everyone.
Though many of us want to give back, sometimes it can be difficult to figure out what organization we'd like to give to, and then wonder if our $10, $15 donation will really go that far. I've found that when I'm offered the chance to donate a small amount to a fundraiser, it's encouraging to see that my $10 is part of a series of 10, 15, even 20 other $10 donations that add up quickly. Clicking a link on an Instagram story, in your Facebook feed, or in your inbox creates a fast, easy avenue to giving back. Many people my age are saddled with the burden of student debt and skyrocketing rent prices, so knowing that you can still make a difference without making a gigantic dent in your bank account is comforting.
I've been running for a few years, and it's one of my favorite ways to spend my free time! It's a great bonding experience for my dog, Finn, and I - nothing makes me happier than when he turns around during a run, tongue out, to look at me and wag his tail. We explore new neighborhoods, push our physical limits, and enjoy coffee and puppuccinos afterwards. It's up to you to guess who enjoys which... :)
It's on us to take care of each other. Life can be incredibly difficult, and we ALL deserve access to everything Thrive DC provides; emergency care, substance abuse counseling, re-entry support, safe housing, etc. I'm especially enthused and proud to support an organization that addresses the difficulties of both mental health and substance abuse issues. While food, water, and shelter are really important, I think addressing those problems is critical. All of us have a right to that assistance.
The greatest part of the human experience is sharing love and kindness with one another. So many Americans are a few bills, a medical emergency, or an unexpected tragedy away from losing safe, stable housing. Because it's not a guarantee from our government, the work that Thrive DC does - creating a safety net for vulnerable populations - is exactly what I want my community to have access to. I'm inspired by the work many of my friends and people in the communities I've lived in have done to work on expanding and enforcing that safety net. I'm not sure how long my time on this Earth will be, but I hope that much of it will be spent making a positive impact on the people I'm lucky enough to share it with.
Donate today to support Kelcey's race to help serve our most vulnerable neighbors in Washington, DC! Or, start your own fundraiser!
In honor of National Student Volunteer Day, we want to highlight a beloved volunteer of Thrive DC, Melanie Klein! Melanie comes into our facilities every Thursday to assist with next day meal prep and administrative tasks. We are so grateful for her commitment and service!
Melanie first heard about Thrive DC through her college, American University, where she had the opportunity to lead first year students through a day of service before classes started in the fall. AU’s Center of Community Engagement and Service suggested she take her students to Thrive DC, and Melanie hasn’t stopped coming since.
Melanie has been struck by how many people rely on Thrive DC every day for meals, showers, laundry, and other basic emergency services. “What I think is amazing about Thrive is its ability to provide comprehensive services that are not just temporary Band-Aids, but aim to help people in a substantial, meaningful, and long-lasting way.”
A meaningful interaction that stuck out to Melanie was a thoughtful conversation with Thrive DC’s Director of Programs, Jon Bolduc. Jon shared his commitment to the mission, where he sees Thrive DC growing, and his vast experience in homeless services.
Since moving to the District for school, Melanie has noticed the gap between those who are new to DC/temporary residents, and those who have lived in DC for years. “As a college student, it is easy to live inside the academic bubble and fantasize about Capitol Hill, but I believe it is most important to recognize people who live locally in DC, many of which are marginalized communities that are becoming gentrified and not receiving sufficient resources.”
We are so grateful for students like Melanie and their contribution to our mission.
We are so excited to announce a new member of the Thrive DC team, Meera Kumar! She will be serving as our Morning Program Coordinator. Learn more about her below!
I am from California but I went to school in Boston. I came to D.C. looking for something different compared to those cities. I have been in the Social Work field for a couple of years, running a youth homeless shelter and working at a domestic violence shelter. I am also very passionate about food having worked as a line cook at a vegan restaurant in Boston.
I am the new breakfast program coordinator and I love the opportunity to serve so many people in my community. Columbia Heights became my home away from home when I moved to DC and I have loved the opportunity to become a community partner and make a difference so close to home.
I think this opportunity specifically is what drew me to Thrive DC. Having worked at a restaurant previously, I missed being so close to food and grew up volunteering in plenty of soup kitchens. I appreciated the opportunity to do something closer to my roots and closer to what I enjoy.
As part of my role, I will be serving as a Case Manager. I've been working with my very first client here at Thrive DC to help with their benefits and insurance, and it's been very exciting to work with someone who is Spanish-speaking! Growing up learning and practicing Spanish, I never imagined I would be able to help people who speak it. It has been very meaningful for me to create a safe and comfortable environment for my clients.
I hope to learn more about DC and the people here, as well as more about myself and how I can grow better into my voice as a leader and manager.
I love to skateboard. Most of my clients get to see me on my morning skateboard commute. Like I said previously, I love to cook and this is one of my favorite hobbies after work.
When trying to end homelessness, there are so many different programs, services, and organizations vying for funding. There are general best practices on how to approach ending homelessness, but without sufficient funding, organizations have to prioritize how best to tackle the issues they feel they can make a difference on with the limited funding they have.
One result of this limited funding is that rural areas are often neglected. Big cities often have very large, very visible homeless populations, and they accordingly have many organizations and programs to address these folks’ needs. In addition, because of the visibility, many cities are willing to use their own budget to pitch in and help these organizations provide services to help unhoused people get housing or shelter, so that the city is more attractive to tourists and prospective residents.
Small towns and rural areas don’t have the large budgets that major cities do–forcing them to rely only on federal funding, their homeless populations are often less visible, and their more dispersed nature means longer distances between service providers.
This creates service deserts. Adrienne Bush, executive director for the Homeless and Housing Coalition of Kentucky, uses the term Service Desert to describe areas that do not have shelters or housing programs. It’s similar to the idea of food deserts, used to describe areas without access to fresh food or grocery stores.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development reported that of people experiencing homelessness in rural areas, 44% lived unsheltered. Sheltered unhoused people live with friends or family or in supportive housing shelters. Unsheltered people live in cars, parks, on the streets–any place that isn’t designed as housing. Experiencing unsheltered homelessness poses many risks, including:
Without supportive services in rural areas to aid these individuals, they face these barriers alone. Housing is a human right, and those in rural areas deserve equal supportive services to their counterparts in major cities, because supportive services increase self-sufficiency and help end homelessness, both on an individual level and on the grander scale.
Following up on their findings, the Department of Housing and Urban Development is providing up to $54.5 million in aid to rural housing agencies. This money can be used for permanent housing, supportive services, emergency shelter costs, housing repairs, food and clothing, staff and overhead, and more. These uses are more flexible than previous funds, which will allow organizations to use the funding in the way that they know will best serve their clients, as they are the frontline workers with expertise on what their clients need.
That flexibility is a really important sign to organizations like Thrive DC. Over the years, we’ve focused more and more on what our clients are telling us as we create and implement strategies to end homelessness. Our clients are experts in their own lives. They have lived experience, and they know what aid would actually be beneficial. So strategies shift, services change, and with that, we need flexible funding to meet these evolving needs.
This HUD grant for rural service providers opens an opportunity for organizations to better serve rural clients, but it also opens up the door to a future of more flexible funding that meets clients where they are at. Thrive DC looks forward to continuing to serve clients alongside organizations across the country, urban and rural.
Go to the gym more. Eat out less. Start meditating. Save money.
Sound familiar? These are some of the most common New Year’s Resolutions. At Thrive DC, our resolutions may look a little different, but we too have plans on how to improve and grow as an organization next year.
These goals align with our 2021-2024 Three Year Strategic Plan. We began Phase 1 by hiring a Program Director, upgrading our office technology, and opening our first men’s transitional house for returning citizens. Now, in Phase 2, we are investing in personnel, culture, and infrastructure. To meet these goals, here are the resolutions we will begin working on in 2023:
• Realigning staff compensation toward the current market rate
• Improving benefits for our staff in alignment with the raised compensation
• Establishing new leadership and professional development opportunities for staff
• Retaining seasoned staff and hiring new highly qualified staff to implement the strategic plan
These objectives will support the minority-majority staff we currently have to become leaders in their field, which is especially important for those with lived experience. These goals will also enable us to implement our highly ambitious strategic plan. We need strong leaders to establish our new programs, like our transitional house and ACT Initiative, as well as our future endeavors. It's significant that we had no program staff leave our organization during the pandemic - but it’s time to focus even more on taking care of our staff so they are equipped and supported to serve our clients well.
We look forward to ringing in the new year with this community of donors, volunteers, staff, and clients that we’ve built over the past 40 years. Thank you for joining us on our journey to adapt to changing circumstances the past three years with COVID, and we look forward to showing you what we will accomplish in 2023!
Across the country, cities and states are criminalizing homelessness. Thrive DC stands firmly against these laws, and we believe that the solution to homelessness lies in housing, not punishment. Why? Let’s go over it.
What is the Criminalization of Homelessness?
The National Homelessness Law Center reports that criminalization of homelessness refers to the increasing number of laws that make it illegal for people to perform life-sustaining activities like sitting, sleeping, eating, asking for donations, or even simply existing in public places, despite a lack of adequate alternatives. These laws in practice make it illegal to be unhoused.
And according to the National Coalition for the Homeless, these laws violate constitutional rights. For example:
Despite their discriminatory purpose and potential constitutional violations, many of these laws remain in effect, resulting in a variety of harmful consequences for people experiencing homelessness, both legal and non-legal.
Where does DC stand with all this?
DC is actively working to end chronic homelessness in the city, rather than criminalizing it. The city also recently passed the DC Human Rights Amendment Act in October, 2022. This Act provides funding to educate law enforcement about the impact of enforcement decisions against unhoused people. The goal is to decrease the rates of violence and incarceration against unhoused people by providing enhanced training.
Thrive DC applauds DC’s efforts to end chronic homelessness and that they are doing so in a way that does not include criminalizing homelessness. Criminalizing homelessness doesn’t end homelessness–it perpetuates it by increasing incarceration and violence.
Please welcome Gary Hines, our newest addition to the Thrive DC family! Gary will work on the Development Team as our Grants Coordinator. We are thrilled to have him join!
Gary is native to Washington, DC and just moved back to the city from the Shenandoah Valley after living there for 9 years. With 30 years of experience in the non-profit world, Gary has experience in accounting and finance, development, operations, program administration, and more. His previous work in the District was at the Father McKenna Center and New Hope Ministries, both organizations working to support neighbors in crisis.
Gary has a passion for homeless services, which is what attracted him to Thrive DC. He is excited about the mission and how his work as Grants Coordinator will help accomplish it. We are thrilled to see how Gary's expertise in the field and hands-on experience with similar client populations will inform how he tells Thrive DC's story.
We asked Gary what his favorite breakfast meal is, and he answered: bacon, eggs over medium, wheat toast and grits.
When you think of healthcare, what do you picture?
A shiny doctor’s office?
A white lab coat? Or nurses’ scrubs?
Beeping machines and stethoscopes?
For many, that list could go on and on. But it will revolve around the same ideas–doctors, medical institutions.
But what if I told you that health and healthcare don't just revolve around doctors? In fact, traditional healthcare (doctors, pharmaceuticals) make up only 20% of our health. The other 80% is determined by the following Social Determinants of Health (SDOH).
The key theme that comes from these SDOHs is that they are interconnected. But what might not be as immediately obvious as their interconnectedness is how they all relate to race.
Systemic barriers connected to these SDOH routinely disadvantage people of color. Redlining and gentrification prevent people of color from accessing housing in neighborhoods that are rich in resources like daycares, well paying jobs, public transit options, green spaces and parks, and more. Convenience and dollar stores target low-income areas, pushing out family-owned grocery stories and reducing low-income neighborhoods’ access to fresh food. Employment discrimination mean many people of color are excluded from well-paying jobs because of their race or because of their education (which many can’t afford, due to race-influenced generational cycles of poverty).
All of the Social Determinants of Health are connected, and lacking access to one often means lacking access to multiple, if not all of them. And due to the racial discrimination that many of these systems were built upon, it is people of color who are the most disadvantaged.
Ultimately, it’s important to know that health is more than traditional healthcare. Housing is healthcare. Food is healthcare. Clean air and safe communities are healthcare. Education, employment, and transportation are healthcare. And if we want to improve public health, we have to get outside the doctor’s office.
Wouldn’t it be cool to use a notebook from 1901? Or maybe a watch or set of marbles?
Old things can be really cool. They carry a sense of history, a window into the way life used to be.
But when your criminal code is showing its history, that’s likely a problem. And that’s the case with the DC Criminal Code, which was created in 1901 by officials that we, in 2022, did not elect. The code has, of course, had revisions over the years, but they have been limited in scope, rather than looking at how the code as a whole functions.
Councilmember Charles Allen describes the issue in only a few words: “[the code is] full of contradiction, it’s full of outdated language, outdated values." To fix this, the DC Council passed the Revised Criminal Code Act of 2022 (RCCA). The bill aims to bring cohesion to the criminal code, reduce confusion, and promote fairness and flexibility in sentencing.
The bill supports these goals through a few key strategies, according to an ABC News report:
These reforms received wide public approval, with 83% of District voters supporting the bill. Many organizations also voiced their support, such as The Sentencing Project, which released an open letter of support for the legislation. Their letter outlines key reasons for passing the measure:
These reasons, and more, are backed by expert opinion, as shown during the open comment period for the bill. In the fall of 2021, the Council held a symposium and three public hearings which saw testimony from advocates and experts from the US DC Attorney’s Office, Public Defender Service Office, DC Attorney General’s office, and more.
This bill, if signed by the mayor, will create tremendous change for DC. It will put us on the path to more equitable sentencing and less incarceration. Yet, there’s still a long way to go. The Sentencing Project, while praising the changes the RCCA creates, made sure to note the ways the city can expand on sentencing reform in the future. In addition, Thrive DC would like to point out the additional support is needed to help returning citizens build a thriving life when they come home. There are so many barriers to housing, employment, and financial security when a person returns home from incarceration. Changes to these systems must be made in tandem with sentencing reform to ensure that we’re not releasing people from prison just to end up homeless within a few months.
In the meantime, without these changes, organizations that aid returning citizens will need increased support. Thrive DC serves returning citizens by providing general case management, housing referrals, employment counseling, employment training, re-entry transitional housing and more. These programs are likely to see an increase in clients over time with the passage of RCCA, as sentences are re-considered and are made shorter overall.
Thrive DC joins the call for Mayor Bowser to sign the RCCA and make these changes in the DC justice system. Everyone deserves a thriving life, and criminal justice reforms such as those contained in the RCCA are an important step toward making that a reality for everyone, regardless of race, gender, or economic class.
In 1987, just 35 years ago, scientists introduces AZT as the first treatment for HIV. Previously considered a terminal diagnosis, this new treatment gave hope to those diagnosed with HIV.
Over the past 35 years, scientists, healthcare providers, and the government have worked together to develop antiretroviral treatments, which, enhanced over time, have made it possible to live a long, healthy, happy life with an HIV diagnosis. Additional medications bring HIV to undetectable levels, preventing the spread of HIV to others and contributing to the end of an epidemic.
But the epidemic can only end if people have access to and utilize these treatments. For DC, a city that has made remarkable steps in decreasing the spread by encouraging testing and connecting people to treatments, creating access and developing trust in the medical system for the most vulnerable populations is the next challenge in ending the epidemic.
DC has the highest rate of HIV in the country, with a rate of 39.2 people infected per 100,000 people (CDC.gov). That’s 1.8% of the DC population that is living with HIV (2020 HAHSTA Surveillance Report). The city is taking great strides to address these statistics. In 2015, the city introduced their “90/90/90/50 plan.” The plan’s name reflects its goals: by 2020, 90% of all District residents with HIV will know their HIV status, 90% of District residents living with HIV will be in sustained treatment, and 90% of those in treatment will reach “viral suppression.” If completed effectively experts predicted the plan to reduce new HIV cases in DC by 50% by 2020.
The plan focused on a model that emphasized increased screening for HIV, linking those who test positive with resources like mental health and substance abuse counseling, engaging and retaining people in treatment so their HIV remains undetectable and non-transmissible, and providing drug therapy.
Additionally, the plan also acknowledged the systemic factors that contribute to people of color and vulnerable populations (like the unhoused community) contracting HIV at higher rates than their counterparts, while also having decreased access to treatments.
After the completion of this plan in 2020, DC examined its successes and areas of improvement. Taking into consideration these learning opportunities, DC is now operating under the newest iteration of the plan to end the HIV epidemic, DC Ends HIV. This plan has loftier goals than the 2020 plan, as it aims for fewer than 130 new HIV diagnoses per year, 95% of DC residents knowing their HIV status, 95% of HIV positive people in treatment, and 95% of people in treatment living with viral load suppression (decreasing transmissibility) by 2030.
To achieve these higher goals, the government added another arm to their “Diagnose, Treat, Prevent, Respond” strategy: Engage. This strategy acknowledges that the push to end HIV in the District must now go towards the hardest to reach populations, the ones with the least trust towards the medical community.
This is where Thrive DC comes in. The city needs connections with the most vulnerable residents, connections that are built on trust and respect, in order to communicate effectively about the benefits of testing and treatment. But for these vulnerable populations–especially people of color, women, and individuals with low-income who are more likely to experience medical mistrust–these connections could take a long time to build with someone like a government official or traditional medical provider because of the preexisting mistrust.
But at Thrive, we already have these connections with our clients. We are a safe space for them to receive food, take a shower, get their mail, take employment training, share their experiences with domestic abuse or being a victim of a crime, or opening up about substance abuse or mental health. We’re here for them. Consistently. Every day. For the past 40 years.
Our clients are disproportionately affected by HIV, with 3.3% of unhoused adults living with HIV/AIDS, as measured during the 2021 Point In Time Count. As we serve predominantly people of color, we conservatively estimate that at least 20 - 25% of our current client community are HIV positive or living with HIV. We also estimate that at least 40% of our clients are engaging in behaviors that significantly increase their risks of becoming HIV positive.
By utilizing the connections we’ve already established with our clients, we can connect them with the resources that the city and other providers have, that our clients might not otherwise use. We’ve partnered with the CDC to provide HIV self-test kits to our clients, so they can learn their status. We also provide safe sex supplies, substance abuse & mental health counseling, victim services, and general case management to encourage safe decision-making and support our clients in achieving the greater self-sufficiency and stability that promotes healthy decisions.
DC government has reached all the easy to reach HIV+ communities - what comes next are the hard to reach: the unhoused, residents with low trust towards medical institutions, and people engaged in risky behavior who aren’t connected to traditional healthcare. This is the population that Thrive serves, and we’re proud to be part of the effort to create safer, healthier communities with our clients through a model of trust and support.