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Louise is an AVODAH Service Corps member, and has spent the last year at Thrive DC working with clients as a Case Manager and Employment Program Assistant. She has been an amazing addition to Thrive DC, and we already miss her terribly. Below are five moments, in no particular order, that stuck out for Louise during her time here.

Today I went to the National Geographic Museum with a group of clients for the second time. The clients I went with the first time are some of the people with whom I’ve connected the most this year; beyond our conversations about fish bones and dinosaurs we were able to talk just as people. It was the first time I got a chance to see who they were outside of their daily needs.

The trip today gave me a space to reflect on how my relationships and connections at Thrive DC have grown this year. Summing up my experience is an impossible task. Instead, I want to reflect on a few “snapshots.” These are the moments I hope to remember for a long time.


Moment #1

Today I sorted mail. I mean, I usually sort mail at least once a day because we get A LOT of mail. But today I really enjoyed it. Maybe it’s because I’m leaving soon or maybe I’m just feeling particularly reflective...

I like going through the names, thinking about all the people that come to Thrive DC, making a mental note that “oh ______ hasn’t been in here in a while, hope he’s okay” or getting excited about someone’s progress: “her ID finally came! I can’t wait to give it to her tomorrow.”

Sorting mail for me is a visual confirmation of how many people are part of the Thrive DC community - how many people feel comfortable, consistent and safe in this space.

Moment #2

Today I walked to work with a client. As I closed my front door, I looked up and saw him about half a block ahead of me. I caught up with him at the light, stood next to him and just smiled. He did one of those double takes and we started laughing.

We walked and talked for about 4 blocks until I checked my watch, realized that I was running 10 minutes late, gave him a quick goodbye, tripped over a branch, and listened to his laughter as I ran the last block to Thrive DC. I love living in a neighborhood with the people I serve!

Moment #3

Today we had a good vibe in music group. Some days the music just rolls and today was a smooth rollin’ day. Members of the group have really started to gel. We know and accept each others’ strengths and weaknesses.

Today I sat back and listened and watched and laughed and appreciated the moments....
like when one person starts playing a song and everyone knows it and just starts singing along;
when I see the stress and exhaustion from the day leave their faces for a moment;
when they acknowledge shared history and experiences;
when I get to learn about DC through music;
when I witness someone start to slowly heal from a traumatic life event…
when I am welcomed into this community.

I smile just thinking about members of the group sitting together and eating breakfast. These guys who didn’t know each other before now sit together almost every day because of what we're building together.

Moment #4

Today was a goofy day. At one point, I was salsa dancing with my officemate because he wanted to prove he could dance. Later, I decided to try and fit into one of the giant, human-sized boxes that we were going to use for the coat drive. I also got stuck in said box and one of the other case managers had to help me out. There were a lot of laughs today, necessary relief after a hard week.

Moment #5

Today our Real Opportunity Culinary Class graduated. Everyone has been hired on at their externship sites!

On my first day at Thrive DC, I worked with a client to fill out a job application. That was his first day at Thrive DC as well. For three weeks we spent every Tuesday and Thursday together filling out job applications without any results.

When we started recruiting people for the Real Opps program, he was the first to apply. And today I watched him graduate. He came to Thrive DC unemployed and without stable housing. He’s graduating today with both a job and a place to live. I’m speechless.

Today I give thanks to my Thrive community…

Thank you for sharing your stories.
Thank you for giving me a hard time.
Thank you for the jokes.
Thank you for teaching me about DC.
Thank you to our amazing volunteers.
Thank you to the Thrive staff.
… Thank you for welcoming me into this community.

We want to give BIG congratulations to two of our Real Opportunity Training Program (Real Opp) clients. Brian and Anthony have done an amazing job committing and succeeding in our two month course!.

Brian is now working full-time by Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe. About the Real Opp program, he says "With the right attitude you can accomplish anything you want."

At Kramerbooks, he has been a model employee always willing to help a coworker out. We're so proud of you, congratulations Brian!.

Anthony has thrived in the Real Opp program. Despite personal challenges, and a history of homelessness and incarceration, he has overcome everything to find a full-time position at The Diner in Adams Morgan.

He is hard working and dedicated, refusing to eat until after his shift is over. The first day he showed up for work, he told his manager "You're going to get exactly what you see today...on time, hard working, committed." Congratulations Anthony!

This volunteer post comes from Thrive DC board m ember Rochelle Sanchirico!

On Friday, April 10th seven energetic Webs employees got a jump on National Volunteer Week by preparing and serving breakfast at Thrive DC in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington.

Thrive’s mission is to prevent and end homelessness by providing vulnerable individuals a comprehensive range of services to help stabilize their lives.  The organization and mission are very near and dear to my heart; I’ve served on their Board of Directors for the past five years and am currently Vice President.

Our volunteer team showed up in the Thrive DC kitchen at 8 AM sharp, ready to don our hairnets, name tags, gloves and aprons and get to work.  Erin King, Halsey Hayes, Deanna Zaucha, Alexandra Rolfs, and Rochelle Sanchirico took on several important jobs, from getting the breakfast items prepared, to organizing take-and-go lunch items gleaned from Pret a Manger, to queuing up clients and serving a full hot breakfast to over 170 people.

Eddie de Jesus leveraged his Spanish skills and extensive Americorps experience by administering vital hygiene items and monitoring the shower service.  And George Goodman was there to lend a hand wherever needed; all while capturing the experience on film (see some shots of our adventure below)!

I’m always grateful for the opportunity to serve our community as well as introduce others to Thrive DC and their wonderful work, which spans meal services, job training, case management, shower and mail services, computer training, health screenings, art and music therapy, and so many other services that assist our clients in establishing a more stable future for themselves and their families.

And I am very grateful to Cimpress and the 20th Anniversary Community Giving Campaign for supporting this very important organization!

Nicole Price is our Women In New Directions (WIND) Program Coordinator. WIND helps women transition from prison back into our community, and helped 26 women last year navigate post-incarcerated life.

We sat down to interview Nicole about her program. For more information about WIND, or to ask for help, click here

To read about the success of one of our program participants, click here.

How do you find the women you work with?

I generally pass out information packets to transitional homes and give workshops at homeless shelters. The organization Consultants for Change is a big help in getting the word out to the women who need support services the most after coming out of prison.

What challenges do these women face?

So many.

Just a few of their external challenges are finding jobs, housing, childcare, getting transportation to and from interviews, and basic skills (things like using a computer).

Internally, the biggest challenge is self-esteem. Many women experience tunnel-vision and get discouraged when they experience a setback. They also struggle with basic life skills like conflict resolution and overcoming resentment.

Too often they also begin to internalize the labels placed on them such as “homeless” or “convict” and begin to use them for themselves. A big part of my job is helping them remember that this is something that has happened to them, but it doesn't need to define them.

Does prison lead to a big change in how they see themselves?

It depends on how long they've been there. Prisons don’t always have the best people working for them and they take it out on the women stuck there. It creates a barrier of trust when they come out because of how inhumanely they've been treated.

Do a lot of women have success coming out of prison?

It’s a very long road and many women struggle with accepting that a change actually needs to happen. They've been in a routine of unhealthy and self-harming actions that have seemingly worked for years so they’re hesitant to try anything else, especially if they have a chance at failing. It’s all about getting them to a mindset of being willing to work for it.

What is the most important thing you do for them?

Being there and being available.  I promise them that I can help and I need to keep that promise. I can’t have them coming into the office and asking for me and then finding out I’m not there, then giving up and leaving: I could lose their trust.

They need my attention, time and dedication because I may be the only person willing to give it. I always remind the ladies that they’re never at a dead end, there’s always an option to try. I encourage them and provide them with options to pursue, and I’m there for them at every step of the way.

What do the ladies seem to struggle with the most?

It’s all about the fear of failure. When something doesn’t work, it’s followed by disappointment and discouragement. For most people it’s easy to bounce back after a failure, but these women already have such low motivation and self-esteem that it really hits them hard.

The thing I struggle with the most with these women is getting them to commit. We require a lot of their time because our services cannot be taught and internalized by coming in once a week. We provide addiction services, help with finding a job, and a cognitive restructuring program.

Thrive DC wants these women to succeed; but to do so, it’s partly on us and mostly on them. It’s hard to get them to that place to commit to our extensive program.

What gives you the most encouragement working with the ladies?

That we still have women who are willing to bounce back after they lose a job or relapse with their addiction. If they are still committed to achieving success after all that they have been through, it makes me want to work that much harder with them to help them achieve their dreams.

It’s especially encouraging when women ask for help after they have found some stability, but before they reach a crisis. It’s hard to ask for help, and it’s a healthy sign that our women are gaining control over their lives and are self-aware to know when they need help. And I’m happy to give it to them!

Running the WIND Program is a full-time job and a half! If you would like to volunteer and help Nicole, please contact our Volunteer Coordinator directly at (202) 503-1533 or volunteer@thrivedc.org. If you would like to support our efforts financially, you can donate directly by clicking here.

We can't paint the solutions for homelessness with one magic brush stroke.  Homelessness is the result of a broken system that sets up our community's most vulnerable individuals and families for continued failure. The issues that surround homelessness are complex - as are the solutions.

Of course, the most immediate answer is to find everyone without a home a place to live.  This would answer the most immediate and obvious need; however, the reasons people fall victim to homelessness are not addressed in the "give them a place to live solution."

Until we can develop a system that effectively addresses the underlying causes of homelessness, we are simply putting a band-aid on a much larger issue and sweeping the remnants of a broken system under the rug.

To deal efficiently, effectively, and comprehensively with the issue of homelessness requires a multi-faceted systemic overhaul.

Housing individuals and families without a place to live is a step in the right direction, but it falls far short of the full answer to eradicating homelessness. An effective long-term plan to end homelessness will incorporate strong preventative measures that support self-sufficiency as well as programs that respond rapidly to people in crisis. Visit www.thrivedc.org to learn more about our efforts to end homelessness in DC. 

Russeline came to Thrive DC two years ago during a period of crisis in her life. She had no food, no access to clean clothing, and no place to live. She struggled with addiction and was experiencing mental and chronic health problems.

Russeline spent more than 6 years living on the streets and in incarceration with nowhere to go and no one to support her. She came to Thrive by suggestion from her friend and she says the staff at Thrive helped her become a person she is proud of.

At first she only expected a meal, but with the help of Trenett, Jemahl, Nicole, and others, she has found so much more.

Russeline now has a job at a dental clinic, has her health problems under control with support from Thrive, and no longer feels the need to take drugs. Staff at Thrive helped Russeline to get healthy, obtain insurance, and attend job training sessions.

She attributes her successes to her friends at Thrive that literally saved her life. “Without Thrive DC, I don’t know if I would’ve made it. Now I get up every day knowing I’m going to do something responsible.”

Russeline continues to meet with Jemahl and Trenett and receive services from Thrive DC, but she is finally in a place in her life where she feels happy. “I smile 90% of the time now,” she says, “If I can do it, anyone can do it.”

“Most of all, I found friends at Thrive DC,” says Russeline.

Jonathan started coming to Thrive DC years ago, when the breakfast program was known as the “9:30 Club." He found himself homeless and living in a shelter. He had raised nine children and previously worked as a store manager, among other things.

He first came to Thrive looking for something to eat after his friends had referred him. But, he said as soon as he walked through the doors he immediately felt comfortable.  “[Thrive] gives me direction. It keeps me busy and safe,” he said. Jonathan has participated in various activities at Thrive including art group and meets with Jessica, our Director of Social Services.

Over the years, he has become friends with members of the staff including Jemahl, the employment specialist, and Terrence, our chef. Recently, with help from Mary’s Center, Jonathan was able to move into his very own apartment after living in a shelter for years. He describes his first night living in his apartment as “peaceful and relaxing. It’s a relief to have your own place,” he says.

His building is safe and secure and Jonathan feels very fortunate to be living in a brand new building. He now feels in control of his own life—“It’s good to have a place I can call my own.”

Last week Mayor Bowser's administration asked a judge to lift their obligation to house homeless families in private rooms. Homeless advocates were surprised, since there had been no warning that such a measure was needed. It's a testament to how great our challenge is to solving homelessness in DC, where there are more families and individuals without a place to stay than ever before.

Below, our Executive Director Alicia Horton responds to the current homelessness crisis.

Homelessness in our Nation's Capital

Challenges abound!  The problem of individual and familial homelessness is a complex problem that is compounded by ever increasing numbers and an on-going urgency that literally impacts one's ability to survive.

On its face the answers seem simple: get everyone housed in a decent, affordable, and supported environment.  But making that seemingly simple solution a reality is more than a notion.  The new administration is learning what advocates and those working at the ground level have known for some time, that there are no quick and easy solutions.

Close shelters and the question arises, where will those families go? Stop providing hotel space, where will new homeless families go? The weather is life threatening, where will we put people who need to come out of the elements?  Where are the resources to provide housing for all?  Can low - income individuals and families afford and sustain homes in our  Nation's Capital? How will we provide support to vulnerable individuals and families once housed?  These are but a few of the complex questions that impact the growing numbers of homeless people in our region.

The solutions are systemic and will never be found in the fast, turn around responses fueled by crisis and campaigns. The answers lie in long term societal changes like living wages, affordable mixed communities, supported services, housing developments, viable employment opportunities, effective mental health systems and supports, affordable and accessible healthcare, meaningful rehabilitation and reentry services, and these are just to start!

Until we begin to turn the wheels of real systemic change we will forever run behind the fast, inefficient solutions that keep us in this perpetual cycle of crisis.  Our community deserves real change, the homeless we serve deserve permanent solutions. Let's start the work of really ending homelessness with long range and innovative systemic strategies built to last.

Alicia Horton has been Executive Director of Thrive DC for six years, and before that was Director of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence for 13 years. She has her JD from Catholic University and her MPH degree from Tulane. Alicia is a passionate advocate for DC’s homeless community and has been nominated for a seat on the Interagency Council on Homelessness. If you would like to support her nomination, you can fill out a ICH nomination for Alicia Horton and email it to the ICH Executive Committee (Darrell.cason3@dc.gov) no later than February 20, 2015.

One night a year hundreds of volunteers in DC walked through all the neighborhoods, alleyways, parks, and woods for one simple purpose: to physically count every homeless person in the city.

Started in 1983, the Point In Time (PIT) homeless count was created to finally get an accurate sense of how big the problem of homelessness really was. Before then, estimates of homeless persons in the US ranged wildly, from the millions to hundreds of thousands. To get more accurate data, federal agencies decided to make a count of all homeless persons in a specific place at a specific time.

Today, the PIT count is huge coordinated effort between the department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and local nonprofits. While every city that receives HUD funding is required to make a PIT count every two years, Washington, DC makes it an annual tradition. Every year, during one night in the last week of January, hundreds of volunteers go out with surveys in hand from 10:00 PM – 2:00 AM counting the people they find outside and asking basic demographic questions. Everyone in shelters and at homeless day programs like Thrive DC are counted as well. The answers to these questions help determine funding priorities for the upcoming year.

Why The Last Week In January?

The PIT count is done the last week of January because it is the time when shelters are expected to be the most full, making it easier to get an accurate count. Especially in DC, where the city is legally required to provide shelter when the temperature is below 32 degrees, the population sleeping outdoors should be much smaller, easier to find, and more manageable to survey in a limited time.

What Kind Of Questions Are Asked?

The survey is designed to be as quick and informative as possible. While it asks basic information like race, sex, and age, it also makes a point to ask persons in their own words what the reason for their homelessness is. The survey also asks if someone is living with medical conditions, receiving any kind of financial assistance, and whether or not they are a veteran.

Who Does The Count?

Everyone! Local homeless service providers act as team leaders and outreach specialists, but volunteers come from all walks of life, with even some homeless persons acting as advocates for their own community. Homelessness is an issue that affects all of us, because it represents a failure of the safety net we rely when tragedy strikes. The volunteers gathered last night bore witness to our commitment to end homelessness in DC not just for those who are chronically homeless, but for everyone who finds themselves without a place to stay at night.

What Is The PIT Count Like?

Cold! But it was heartwarming to see everyone come out to support an end to homelessness. More than 300 volunteers stepped up in 2015, six times more than the 50 who were doing the PIT count just a few years ago. Even Mayor Bowser came and said a few words.

Surveying the homeless members of our community at night was a humbling experience. Volunteers were able to see exactly how meager sleeping arrangements were, talk to couples huddled together for warmth, learn people’s names, and hear their stories in their own words.

While the PIT count is an important strategy for shaping homelessness policy, it’s also a powerful experience of meeting our city’s most vulnerable members and seeing where they live. It’s our annual trip out to the margins, where we seek out the people who are too often ignored during the daytime.

This spring, after all the data is collected and tallied, we will have a better sense of what homelessness looks like in DC (no PIT count can be entirely accurate, since many homeless individuals and families stay with friends, family, and in their cars, avoiding the count and going uncounted). But if the PIT count interests you, I encourage you to get involved with your local homeless service provider. We need your help as volunteers, and would like you to get to know the people we serve.

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