By Sydney Franklin
For 24 years, the Fannie Mae Help the Homeless Walkathon brought crowds of spirited marchers to the heart of Washington. The event raised public awareness about homelessness, and over $90 million for local shelters and other homeless programs, organizers say.
But this year, there will be no big Help the Homeless Walkathon on the National Mall.
Mortgage giant Fannie Mae remains in government conservatorship, a casualty of the nation’s real estate crisis. And instead of sponsoring any more big walks, Fannie Mae has shifted its focus to helping organize much smaller, community-based walks in cities around the country.
Because homelessness endures, supporters of the homeless say they will keep walking.
“We’ve been doing the walk as long as it’s been going,” said Judy Smith, finishing a mini-walk at her church, St. Columba’s Episcopal Church in Tenleytown. The church held a mini-walk after each of its six Sunday services on Oct 21.
The walks at St Columba’s were just the start. Over 100 Help the Homeless mini-walks are being held throughout DC this fall. Some local groups, anxious to sustain the funding levels of previous years, are trying innovative alternatives; there are 5K runs, a Zumbathon, a yoga class, a harvesting event and a jump-a-thon.
A complete list of walks and other events in the area can be found online at www.hthwalks.org.
At St. Columba’s, hundreds of parisheners filtered out of the church’s side doors on the corner of Albemarle Street and 42nd Street Northwest. Choir members wearing royal blue robes sang a Hallelujah chorus, while clergymen dressed in white, families, teenagers and small children filed around the block.
Rev. Rose Duncan said that St. Columba’s has been a part of this tradition for nearly 13 years.
“We’ve always had a walk,” said Duncan. “And we’ve always participated in the Mall walk. It is still our commitment for that.”
Duncan explained that St. Columba’s uses the fundraiser to support its three ministries. Its Water Ministry provides lunch, shower and laundry facilities four days a week for people experiencing homelessness. At The Haven, St. Columba’s partners with Friendship Place to maintain this transitional housing and counseling program for women. Rebuilding Together is a program where church members spend the last two Saturdays in April to refurbish the homes of poor, elderly or handicapped DC residents.
“Last year’s funds from the walks doubled outreach for these services,” said Duncan. “It is our job to educate and make people aware that there are people struggling from homelessness and poverty all around us.”
Aiming for 1,200 participants on Sunday alone, the congregation at St. Columba’s walked with a goal of raising about $30,000. Late registration fees are still coming in for the final fundraising count, organizers said. .
Sondra Mills has been attending the walks since 1996 and can remember bringing her now grown-up son to participate.
“I was here when my son was a little guy wearing a giant Help the Homeless T-Shirt,” she said. “The number of homeless children in Fairfax County has tripled to something like 3,000 kids. That’s stunning. The problem is getting worse.”