Here’s the Capitol Hill Non-Profit That’s Addressing Homelessness in Our Community

Capitol Hill Group Ministry’s Engagement Coordinator Abby Sypek (left) and Director of Strategic Initiatives Kate Akalonu.

Here’s the Capitol Hill Non-Profit That’s Addressing Homelessness in Our Community

by Larry Janezich

For most people, the practical efforts to help the homeless exist below the radar.  It’s no different in our community, where many residents are unaware of the work of the Capitol Hill Group Ministry (CHGM), a non-profit dedicated to addressing homelessness in Ward Six and other parts of the city.

CHGM’s name derives from the coalition of different congregations who came together 50 years ago to respond to community social concerns.  Today the group’s mission is to support the holistic needs of individuals and families at risk of, or experiencing, homelessness. They are the advocates for the homeless and provide the interface between them and city agencies providing housing and other social services.

According to DC Department of Human Services, DC’s homeless population on January 24, 2018 stood at 6,904: 3,770 singles – up 5.2% from January 2017, and 924 families, down 20.8% from 2017.

There are generally two categories of homeless – families in shelter or staying with relatives and without permanent residences, and the much more visible homeless people, typically single men and women, who many of us encounter or engage on a regular basis.  It’s likely that the latter group come from the 15-20% of the total number of homeless categorized as “chronically homeless,” and often suffering from mental illness and/or substance use disorder.

CHGM gets most of its funding* from the DC government; its budget is supplemented by donations, support from foundations and corporations, special events, and congregations.

The major portion of government funding goes to contracts to administer two city wide programs:  the Family Homelessness Prevention Program and the Rapid Rehousing Program.  Generally speaking, the city programs administered by CHGM benefit families.  (For more on these programs, see the end of this story.)

Two other programs, specific to CHGM are aimed at the unsheltered homeless individuals in Ward 6:  Shirley’s Place Day Hospitality Center and the CHGM Street Outreach Program.  These programs are supported by a mix of public and private funds.

Shirley’s Place Day Hospitality Center, located at 1338 G Street, SE, is named after Shirley Anderson, a longtime Capitol Hill Group Ministry supporter.  Shirley’s Place offers laundry, showers, light meals and connection to resources.  CHGM Street Ourtreach staff and volunteers walk the community on a regular basis to engage the homeless one on one, providing medical attention, food, drinks, blankets, transport to homeless shelters and a way to connect to community resources and services (healthcare, welfare, food stamps, etc.).

CHC sat down with CHGM Engagement Coordinator Abby Sypek and CHGM Director of Strategic Initiatives Kate Akalonu to talk about CHGM and the members of the community who are homeless and in need of assistance.

Sypek says “Ending homelessness is possible – it’s the exception not the rule that homeless people don’t want their own home.  Most want housing and a safe place to stay and it is rare to find those who don’t – even those, we work with in hopes that they get there.”  She cites Utah’s success with its “Housing First” programs as a model approach which involves providing housing first and then addressing the problems which brought about homelessness, rather that making eligibility contingent on solving those problems first. Sypek added, “I love working in DC with a lot of smart people looking at innovative ways to end homelessness.  It’s not enough.  We need way more homeless intervention.”

Akalonu said one of her concerns was the relationship between the public and the homeless, asking, “How do we shift public perception about finding a place in the community for those living in poverty?  It’s hard to pinpoint reason for homelessness – there are a lot of factors at play. Some have a deeper safety net – we provide another layer of safety.”

CHGM is having a Fund Raiser on September 8, in the North Hall of Eastern Market.  “Sip and Savor is a celebration of local food, craft beer, wine, cider, spirits and music in support of the homeless.”  Unlimited food samples and beverage tastings. Tickets are $70 until September 6, $80 at the door (if available).   http://sipandsavor.chgm.net

Additional information regarding CHGM and DC Homelessness:

Housing the homeless we most frequently encounter is often the most difficult.  Other agencies across city administer permanent and rapid rehousing housing programs for unsheltered homeless individuals through contracts with the city government.  Some of these include Miriam’s Kitchen, Friendship Place, Pathways to Housing, and Community Connections.

To determine eligibility for housing the city uses a widely recognized national process referred to as “coordinated entry.”  The goal of the process is to make sure people who need housing most get it.  The non-profit agencies such as those listed above as well as CHGM perform a voluntary “triage,” asking a series of questions of those in need of housing assistance to determine their level of need.  From the information gathered, a data base is created to prioritize those whose need is greatest.  Once a month, some 30 representatives of government agencies and non-profits interfacing with the homeless hold a “coordinated entry meeting.”  If the city has 30 housing units available that month, the participants go down the list and match those in need with the facilities available.

While others focus on housing unsheltered individuals, CHGM administers two city-funded programs aimed at housing families through government contracts.

The Family Homelessness Prevention Program helps stabilize families at risk of homelessness through mediation, flexible financial assistance and connecting them to supportive resources.  CHGM works with families to create both short and long term housing plans so that they can avoid homelessness and having to enter the shelter system.

The Family Housing Program has two components, Rapid Rehousing – a one year plus program to support families transitioning out of homelessness or – and Shelter Plus Care to provides permanent supportive housing for families in need of long term support.  In the latter case, support could be 100% subsidized housing for those with no income, or 30% subsidized housing for those with some income, such as SSI, SSEI, or earned income.  CHGM currently has 30 families in the supportive family program and points to a 20% decline in the number of homeless families over 2017 to demonstrate the its success.  (Studies by Federal and State agencies show subsidizing housing for the homeless costs about one-third of the $30,000 – $50,000 it costs taxpayers per person per year for homeless living on the street.)

For more information or to find how you can contribute or volunteer, see here:  http://www.chgm.net/

*Capitol Hill Group Ministry’s Budget for 2017:

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One response to “Here’s the Capitol Hill Non-Profit That’s Addressing Homelessness in Our Community

  1. Mac

    How many of the homeless in Ward 6 lived in Ward 6 before becoming homeless? I feel the Eastern Market area has already become an attraction for vagrants from across our region.