On May 25th we watched with horror the murder of Mr. George Floyd as an officer held a knee on his neck while he begged to breathe. Another senseless death in a long list of lives lost to unmitigated police brutality. Over the last few months, we have witnessed the scourge of a pandemic rage through our communities leaving an unprecedented trail of death and despair in its path. Let me be clear about this: both are a direct result of generational, institutional and systemic racism fueled by impunity.
Our work at Thrive DC is about trying to meet the deep and abiding needs created by a myriad of inequities faced by the poor, the disenfranchised, the sick, as well as immigrants, women, and people of color. The effects of inequitable housing, food insecurity, healthcare disparities, unjust legal systems, toxic employment practices and more, continue to torment already vulnerable communities. The people we serve, have been beaten down repeatedly. They come to us when they are at the end of their proverbial ropes. Our clients live every day with a knee on their neck.
For more than 40 years Thrive DC has worked to lift people up from the anguish of homelessness, poverty, hunger, chronic unemployment and mental as well as physical illness. We serve men and women who live on the edge because they have been set adrift by the effects of deep-rooted discriminatory systems, people and practices. The incessant hardships faced by our clients are rarely linked to the kind of horrific violence we saw take George Floyd’s life and the lives of so many others. But they stem from the same grievous, bigoted, soul stealing, prejudice that maims and kills.
The outpour of anger and frustration that we have seen in the streets across America over the last week is a culmination of fear and despair created by those who have upheld a system of hate and inequity for far too long. We join the peaceful protesters and say, enough! The crowds roar and we at Thrive DC share their heartfelt sentiment. We stand in solidarity with the changemakers, we support the transformers, and we will continue to be “At the Heart of a New Start,” which is at the core of our mission, for the thousands of people we serve every year.
Now more than ever, Thrive DC doubles down and recommits to be an active participant in creating the social change that is desperately needed for developing new frameworks, perspectives and practices free of bigotry that implicitly and overtly dehumanize and destroy. We are emboldened by the momentum and the energy that so many feel, and we hope that you are too. Join us in our work to serve, rebuild lives and advocate for just policies!
On any given night, there are over 800 single homeless women in DC.
In the Spring of 2017, the Women's Task Force of the Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) worked with the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness (TCP) to analyze gender and household data from the 2017 Point in Time Count.
This data was very revealing, showing that there were several differences between the experiences of homeless men and women, and that homeless women experienced mental illness and violence at far greater rates than men do.
Armed with this initial data, the Women's Task Force conducted a separate study in the Fall of 2017 to better understand the needs of homeless women. Below is the full report and the Executive Summary of the data.
Why do you volunteer?
We sat down with Denise Woods, one of our long-time volunteers, to see what got her involved with our homeless clients, what has been a powerful moment for her, and what she is most proud of. Read on to see her answers!
I am an activist, advocate, consultant, mother, baker, interior designer and more. Did you notice yet that I hate boxes?
A neighbor told me about Thrive DC. For a long time I had wanted to volunteer with an organization that supports people in homelessness; when I found out I could bring my kids here I thought “Bingo!”
I wanted to make sure my that daughters experienced life outside our bubble and learned empathy for the people who don’t share our economic circumstances. Ever since I noticed that their first reaction to seeing homeless people on the street was fear, it’s been my goal to humanize our neighbors living on the edge.
I felt that Thrive DC could be transformative if my girls learned their stories and understood that people are so much more than their circumstances.
Terrible. Just kidding! I have volunteered with similar organizations and couldn’t leave quickly enough. At Thrive I feel like I leave better than when I enter.
I might come to Thrive in a bad mood, worried about the world’s problems or frustrated with my family, but I leave encouraged and emboldened by the hugs I receive and the conversations I have.
The people here show me the strength of the human spirit and I know my frustrations are tiny by comparison.
Toss up between staff and clients! The clients have often given me great advice about how to handle a family situation they themselves have faced, and the staff could not make this a more welcoming place to volunteer. Seriously!
From Alicia, who is as real as an Executive Director comes, to all the staff who treat their clients like they truly matter – not only do they make what could be an embarrassing and humiliating experience for the clients enjoyable and affirming, they also make sure to know all the clients names and mine.
I walked up to Thrive recently and one of the clients who I know and admire was outside.
As I walked up he began to sing about letting go of stress and finding the blessings in life while playing air guitar, and I couldn’t help but laugh and join in!
We had a fire drill one cold day and we all ran outside without our coats – except for those who hadn’t taken them off yet – and I started talking to one of the clients and complaining about the temperatures. To my surprise she immediately opened her coat and let me get inside!
I felt like she was a mother duck sheltering her duckling, even though I was 20 years older than her. And even though she is black and I am white there was no hesitancy at all in her generosity.
Another powerful moment was when a client told me that she spends three hours a day on the bus to eat at Thrive DC every day. She told me this is the only place she knows where she will be seen and treated as a whole human being.
I was floored, and it made me realize just how significant Thrive is for her and many others.
I am so proud of all of the above and Thrive DC's capacity to connect clients with housing resources. When someone has a home it means their life can be moved from the edges to a stable foundation.
Funding for families. Funding for crisis services. Funding for affordable housing. Need I say more?
Would you also like your family to volunteer with the homeless?
When Charlie lost his job he knew exactly where to go.
Charlie was born and raised in the District, and he’s known about Thrive DC ever since it was called the “9:30 Club” downtown because it served breakfast at 9:30 AM. Whenever he was down, hungry, or lost his ID, Thrive DC was there as a place he could count on.
This time was no different.
The day after he lost his job Charlie was at Thrive DC asking about the employment program. He was there every day working with our job coaches to set up an email and rebuild his resume.
While he was here, Thrive DC’s emergency services kept him going. Services like meals and grocery bags helped him stretch out a thin budget until he could get back to work.
Between Charlie’s determination and his job coaches at Thrive DC, the hard work paid off. Less than two months after losing his job Charlie was hired full-time for his first ever supervisor position! Not only did Charlie bounce back from unemployment, he’s now doing better than ever.
“Ya’ll are a great organization,” Charlie said when asked about Thrive DC. “If you need real, true help…Thrive DC got it.”
Have you ever thought about what it’s like to be homeless in a DC summer? Imagine - the same blazing sun and oppressive humidity but no air-conditioned home or office for escape.
For about 8,000 individuals in DC this is their reality. However, there are places you can help them find to stay cool and healthy.
To help people who are especially vulnerable to things like heat stroke, DC has something called a heat emergency plan. What is it? Whenever the temperature gets above 95 degrees, cooling centers are activated all over the district.
These facilities offer air-conditioned spaces where people can rest and recover. Keep in mind: these are only open to the public during a heat emergency, and not all facilities are alike.
Use the map below and become a cooling center expert! Not only will you know where you and your family can duck in out from under the sun, but you can also show people suffering in the heat where to find some relief.
Note: If you find someone suffering from heat exhaustion, call the hyperthermia hotline by dialing 311. Someone will come pick them up and take them to a cooling facility.
If a person looks like they’re having a heat stroke, call 911 immediately! For less serious situations, such as being slightly overheated, you can direct them to the nearest resource on the map below.
These are the general cooling centers open to anyone Monday - Friday from noon to 6 PM and are marked by red thermometers.
These are cooling centers that open specifically for homeless individuals during a heat emergency and are marked by grey bursts of wind. Be sure to check the map to see when each facility is open!
These are cooling centers for senior citizens. These are especially designed for seniors without access to air conditioning and are marked by yellow suns.
Spray parks are perfect for anyone who is a little overheated and just needs to cool down for a while. You can find a spray park in practically any part of the city by clicking on the blue showerheads.
The last layer shows the location of public libraries throughout the District. While not specifically part of the heat emergency plan, they are important resources for homeless individuals and oases of air-conditioning.
So, how can you tell if a person needs a cooling facility? This can be a bit tricky. But, the adjacent graphic is a great resource for you to use. Remember: if someone is suffering from heat exhaustion call 311. If someone is suffering from heat stroke call 911!
Friday, December 2nd Thrive DC served over 300 people breakfast in the morning and outfitted them with winter coats, hats, scarves, gloves, and blankets.
Thank you to everyone who supported us this month with donation drives and purchases from our Amazon Wish List. Thanks to you we had many items available to choose from and almost everyone in need was able to be satisfied.
This comes just in time as Arctic winds are expected to hit Washington, DC Wednesday - Friday this week. Temperatures will drop to the mid 20's at night and struggle to rise above 40 degrees. The full outfitting Thrive DC was able to provide will hopefully prove lifesaving support to the individuals living outside in the freezing weather, risking hypothermia.
Despite the strong showing this past Friday, Thrive DC will be hosting two more Coat Drives throughout the winter. Please help us spread the word to continue collecting much needed welcome warmth for our clients.¢
Columbia Heights is an amazing, diverse, densely populated, and economically layered community. We’ve come a long way from the riots of 1968 – while our neighborhood was effectively ignored and avoided for decades by city planners, the neighborhood has witnessed an extraordinary revitalization since the Metro stop was installed in 1999 and DC USA was established in 2008.
This is why it’s amazing to me that some community members look at Columbia Heights and see a neighborhood “in decline.” There is no comparison to our community now and what it was like 10 or even 5 years ago. Businesses are thriving, people are competing to live here, and we even have America’s #2 Best New Restaurant! Our community has changed dramatically, and mostly for the better.
Unfortunately, the blessings of community revitalization have historically run “downhill.” What has generally been positive change has ended in a sporadic drip of benefits for long term residents. These changes are perceived as encroachment, because the changes are not for them but are geared toward supporting the “New Community.”
This visibly translates into a disparity within the community that begins to look like a line between the “Haves” and the “Have Nots.”
What is happening here is not unique to Columbia Heights. As newcomers enter an established community and work to make that community their own, they often aren’t aware of those they are displacing or the long term residents they will now be calling neighbors. But it is particularly dramatic here. From 2000 – 2010 the black population in Columbia Heights dropped 13%, while the white population increased 18%. And it’s only continued in that direction since then.
As long-term residents watch their neighborhood undergo dramatic change, what they see are affluent new people who are able to come in and make substantial changes: upgrading their property, buying out neighbors, closing or replacing the local corner store, and changing traffic patterns.
This progress clearly isn’t meant for long-term residents. They have been here for decades without change, but all of a sudden it is the new comers who get to dictate and direct the transformation of their community.
For example, one Saturday morning a neighborhood in DC woke to the bustling hum of a new farmer's market. The farmers had their trucks out and were busy setting up tables and cordoning off the area. The neighborhood soon learned that the market was to be a regular staple in the area from 10 AM – 2 PM every Saturday going forward. What a surprise this was!
What was also surprising is that no one knew that this was happening, not the home owners and residents who regularly parked their cars in what was now a restricted area, not the local corner market that would now be losing business to the incoming vendors. No one informed the ladies who regularly sat in the small park adjacent to the new market on Saturday mornings to enjoy the quiet setting.
At the next ANC meeting the “newcomers,” young white couples with toddlers at their sides and million dollar investments in their new homes, faced off against the “long-termers:” African American residents who had raised their children, grandchildren and great grands in homes they had occupied for most of their lives.
“Why would anyone oppose a farmers market?” the newcomers asked. “This is good for everyone!” What the market planners failed to understand was the importance of the process, the necessity of inclusion, the expectation of respect for the existing community. The market had drawn a line in the sand and brought to bear the real questions that typify the problems of a transitioning community:
"Whose community is this? Who gets to decide what “we” want? Does my voice matter? Is your voice more important than mine?"
The community of Columbia Heights is currently weathering this storm of transition. As a community changes it is the responsibility and duty of the designers of change to foresee the pitfalls of transition and work to address, if not prevent the inevitable ill winds.
Crime is one of those inevitable ills that result when parts of a community are left out of the prosperity equation.
While no one is opposed to growth and success, everyone must have a stake in progress and a viable chance to grow with the community. Real opportunities for participation in the “New Community” have to be within the reach of long term residents.
These opportunities include things like easy micro loans for home improvement, accessible job opportunities, training programs, homeownership, affordable housing, etc. Without these kinds of supports, feelings of resentment and exclusion fester as people who have the most to lose in our community are left behind or shoved aside.
City Planners, politicians, community advocates and members must continuously seek to engage strategies that create an inclusive community that promotes both the old and the new. Failure to do so will only breed the kind of contempt that results in a disregard for all things, including the community that no longer feels like home.
While Thrive DC is located in Columbia Heights and primarily serves the homeless of DC, a large part of our work is also homelessness prevention. More than 200 families a week come to Thrive DC for emergency groceries, or for fresh fruits and vegetables from our free farmer’s market, or simply to bring their children in for a free meal.
We are doing what we can to provide job assistance and job training for individuals who want to participate in our community. We even have a re-entry program for women coming home from incarceration that offers support while helping them get back on their feet.
However, these solutions will have limited effectiveness until our city and community leaders plan for a future that includes both the old and the new communities they serve.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thrive DC works daily to build a community of acceptance and welcome within our walls. We encourage volunteers to learn from the men and women who come here for support and encourage our clients to share their stories with our volunteers. These relationships help to break down some of the stereotypes of homelessness and the causes behind it. If you want to raise your voice to change any of the reasons below you can call or write to your local and state government representatives and share your feelings.
10. Extended Illness
9. Prisoner Re-entry
6. Family Issues / Domestic Violence
5. Drug Dependence
4. Alcohol Addiction
3. Physical or Mental Disability
2. Low Paying Jobs / Loss of Job
1. Lack of Affordable Housing
*This list was adapted from PBS- Facts and Figures: The Homeless (http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/526/homeless-facts.html) and The National Coalition for the Homeless (http://www.nationalhomeless.org)