For over 50 years, The Downtown Cluster of Congregations, an ecumenical consortium of over 40 congregations in Washington, DC, has sought to collaboratively use its member congregations’ resources to support endeavors that aid the city’s elderly, homeless and youth. With services ranging from assistance for those with Alzheimer’s to the establishment of a community investment fund, The Cluster has used its congregation’s volunteers, facilities and finances to supply programs to improve the lives and futures of DC residents.
One important program that The Jones Foundation has been supporting for 25 years is their Homeless Services Unit. This initiative is staffed by a professional social worker who engages over 175 homeless persons each year, many of whom are the most vulnerable of the homeless — women, the elderly and those suffering from mental illness. The staff also addresses unstable living situations with many living in doorways, makeshift shelters, tents and bus shelters. The staff not only seeks to get them safe shelter, health care and food, but works with them to find and address the root causes of their homelessness. The goal of the program is to restore individuals and families to independent living. To this goal, the Cluster offers benefits, treatment, employment and housing.
The Cluster also organizes the Clean, Green and Safe Initiative which seeks to address issues in DC that harm the quality of life, well-being and safety of its residents. The agency reports issues to both District and federal agencies that need to be resolved including graffiti removal, street light assessments, planting trees, improving sidewalks, pedestrian safety and more. The Cluster boasts that it is the “Number One Reporter” of quality of life issues (20,000 and counting!) in the city’s neighborhoods.
Most recently, two important areas of need have been addressed. First, The Cluster’s members have been called to the front lines in the battle against Covid. Many of its members have used their parking lots as test and vaccination sites, coordinated distribution of PPE and helped vulnerable communities throughout the city to increase vaccination rates. And secondly, The Cluster has needed to address the surge in deadly gun violence. Pastors and members are working hard to reach out to their communities to seek resolution of disputes, raise awareness of the terrible costs of violence and hold those supplying deadly guns accountable. A key component of addressing violence is to find more activities for youth to stay engaged after school, on weekends and during the summer months.
The Downtown Cluster’s staff and member clergy are a cooperative consortium who make an important difference in the lives of Washington DC’s residents. They are often asked for both comment and direction in the wake of tragic events. Questions such as how can the community best respond to overcome the hardships that strike them? How to deal with drug use and deadly violence? How to combat hatred and racism in the community? Through action these complicated problems are addressed each day, helping to ground the community in faith with the ultimate goal to heal and to build a better future for all Washington DC’s residents.