By Bett Mohar
The nation’s first non-profit grocery store recently opened its doors in the struggling community of Chester, Pennsylvania.
Fare & Square has a goal of providing the city’s 35,000 residents with a place to purchase healthy, locally-produced food. The town, a former shipyard and auto-manufacturing hub, had been without a grocery store for more than a decade.
Along with affordable fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy products, the bright new store has brought a measure of hope to the small city since its grand opening in September, say patrons and employees.
And its business model has the potential to eventually be replicated in other poor communities throughout the country, some say.
“We came to the realization that people in economically-challenged communities have a burning desire for normalcy and they want access to food like all other Americans,” said Bill Clark, who is president and executive director of Philabundance, a nonprofit hunger-relief organization, who came up with the idea for the store seven years ago.
”Getting food to the poor is the same model as getting food to the wealthy.”
But Clark found some powerful nonprofit and government backers, including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to help fund the $7 million project.
Chester, located in the Delaware Valley, had been designated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as a food desert: an area where a substantial share of residents lack access to grocery stores other sources of healthy, affordable food.
It is a lack felt in many places, particularly in low-income neighborhoods. In Washington, D.C. for instance, only a small handful of the city’s roughly 40 full-service grocery stores serve Wards 4, 7 and 8. The USDA estimates that about 13.5 million Americans live in food deserts nationwide..
“Food deserts are one of the most pervasive problems plaguing cities across the country and are a large, troublesome and growing phenomenon,” said Clark. “Once we identified the areas of greatest need in the Delaware Valley, it was a meeting with congressman Bob Brady that spurred us to select Chester as the site of the nation’s first non-profit grocery store. Chester has been without a grocery store for far too long, and we are so proud to bring the first grocery store to Chester.”
The ramifications of living in an area without access to a healthy food source negatively impacts nearly all aspects of the community as a whole. Clark said he hoped bringing a grocery store to Chester would be a major and necessary step in improving the health and living conditions for the community.
The store, which boasts produce, seafood, deli, dairy and frozen food departments, accepts Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits which are known as food stamps. And while anyone can shop at the store, low-income shoppers receive special benefits.
A store program called the “Carrot Club” provides members with a variety of promotions and discounts. Members whose household incomes are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level receive seven percent credit on their purchases in the form of “Carrot Cash” which can be used towards future store purchases.
Clark emphasized the fact that he did not want to give food away.
“What we want to do is treat our clients with the respect and dignity of a customer and not a charity case.”
Prior to September, Chester residents had little choice in where they shopped or what they ate. They either had to rely upon the narrow choices offered by small convenience stores, travel outside the city to purchase food or take what they were given at the local food bank without having any say in the types of food the received.
“People pay an extremely high price for free food but the cost is not in dollars, it is in self pride and choice,” said Clark.
In addition to providing the community with a place to shop, Fare & Square has also created 82 new jobs and nearly all of its employees live in Chester. To many of its customers and employees, it is also much more than just a place to work and purchase food.
“People in the community are really proud of this store and I’m really proud of this store,” said employee Bakirah Johnson. “In Chester, it’s the talk of the town.”
According to Johnson, store employees handed out apples and oranges to the kids for Halloween and most of the children “had not seen food like that in so long that they didn’t even care about not getting candy. Little things you don’t think of are a big deal.” In fact, she said many of the kids were so excited that they wanted to eat the fruit immediately and Johnson happily obliged, cleaning the fruit upon request and helping them peel dozens of oranges in the process.
The efforts made by Fare & Square to improve the lives of its customers has not gone unnoticed by shoppers. “In the end, it’s all about empowerment,” observed Chester resident Carole Burnett.
As for Clark, he said he hopes the Chester Fare & Square will not remain America’s only non-profit grocery store for long. Food deserts across the country might be transformed by similar efforts, he believes.
“Its been a huge undertaking but if we can figure out how to make this work, it’s a game changer.”
By Claire Sloan
The historic Federal City shelter needs to be transformed into something that homeless people and advocates alike can be proud of, including well-maintained permanent low income housing, said Cheryl K. Barnes of the Interagency Council on Homelessness.
“Homeless people go through a lot of crap,” Barnes said in a meeting at City Hall on Oct 8. “But it doesn’t have to continue if we all see the same vision.”
This meeting marks the beginning of deliberations by a city task force, specially appointed to help chart the future for the sprawling facility before the 2016 expiration of a federal requirement than the building be used for homeless services.
The group is expected to send its recommendations for the shelter to the mayor in six months. The shelter, which houses 1350 people on any given night, is often known simply as CCNV, the initials of the Community for Creative Non-Violence, an anti-war and anti-poverty group that turned the former federal college building into a shelter in the late 1980s.
Barnes shares a vision with many others that homelessness will be ended in her lifetime. She was formerly homeless and spent three years at the shelter when CCNV’s charismatic leader, the late Mitch Snyder was still alive and helping to run the program there. The homeless advocates said they are aware of the development pressures on the property, located on prime real estate not far from Union Station.
“Nobody wants a shelter in their neighborhood. There are two sides to the story,” said Shacona Ward, a resident of the CCNV shelter.
Both sides of the story are represented in the task force which includes leaders of organizations such as the Department of Behavioral Health, Miriam’s Kitchen, DowntownDC Business Improvement District and Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless.
The interests of the shelter’s neighbors should not be the highest priority, said Eric Sheptock of Shelter Housing And Respectful Change. Some individuals give the entire homeless population a bad name. Moving them to another part of the city will not solve the problem, he said.
“There are people who are mentally ill, and are homeless, take their meds and don’t act crazy,” Ward said in reference to the variety of individuals within the District’s homeless population.
The task force does not accurately represent the homeless community because few of its voting members have actually experienced homelessness, said Reginald Black, a Street Sense vendor and homeless advocate.
The task force’s mission represents a combination of hopefulness and discontent. The dichotomy was apparent to meeting attendee Amna Abdelgader, a University of Maryland student and friend of Sheptock’s. The sense of urgency to help the homeless was detectably different for those representing the neighborhood and those representing the homeless.
“There’s a lot of opportunity for doing something creative and meaningful in terms of quality homeless services,” said City Councilman Jim Graham.
Barnes, Sheptock, Black and many others share in Graham’s hopes for the future of the shelter. But their great challenge will be to come to a consensus within six months on what must be done to the shelter.
The task force must determine how to house 1350 people while the shelter is being repaired or remodeled.
“Any plan to house less than 1350 people is a conversation stopper,” Sheptock said.
The next meeting will be held at the CCNV allowing shelter residents to easily attend the meeting and give comments at the end. It will cover all the legal implications of making any changes to the shelter, on a date to be determined, Graham said.
By Eric Falquero
Three children race through the intersection of Providence and Capitol streets NE. Two kids ride scooters and one is on a bike. An oncoming taxi stops short.
Danger seen, crisis averted.
But traffic pollution poses a more insidious threat to neighborhood health, local activists say. And it is proving harder to stop than a hurrying cab.
In the low-income community where many residents already suffer from respiratory ailments, the Ivy City Civic Association (ICCA) is fighting to keep the city from opening a new tour bus parking lot. The neighborhood is hemmed in by busy New York Ave.NE as well as train yards, warehouses and city vehicle lots. And advocates worry the increased fumes from the charter buses will only make health problems worse.
“We can’t just let you come in and kill us,” says ICCA president Alicia Swanson-Canty, 40, who has spent her whole life in Ivy City. She worries that current pollution levels in the neighborhood are taking a particularly heavy toll on elders, including her mother.
On December 10, 2012, Superior Court Judge Judith Macaluso buoyed the advocates in their fight against city hall. She ruled that city officials violated the law when they moved forward with plans for the bus depot without getting the required input from the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) or doing a mandated environmental review.
But now, the Ivy City activists are bracing for the next round of their battle.
City Mayor Vincent Gray is appealing the ruling and his day in court is is scheduled for Sept. 17. The office of the mayor would offer no comment for this story, except to say the city is pursuing the requirements specified in the injunction.
Advocates hope the December ruling will stand. And they hope for more. Their ultimate goal is seeing the former Alexander Crummell School, where the bus lot is proposed, transformed into a community or recreation center that could offer resources that are now in short supply such as a safe play area for kids and adult education classes.
“If they’re trying to make this a community, we need a rec,” said Ivy City resident Juice Williams, age 39. “We don’t need buses, we nee
d something productive: job training, GED classes…”
His fellow resident Nate Wales and David Hayes agreed that a community center would be a haven for children like the ones they had just watched cross the street in front of the taxi.dents Nat
“They’re not doing anything but chasing each other in the same circles,” Wales says of the kids.
Hayes could not help but compare the lack of services in Ivy City to the resources in other neighborhoods. “Brentwood has a work program, Rosedale has a rec, Edgewood has a rec…”
Wales added that the presence of a juvenile detention center does not send a hopeful message to young people. “There’s nothing to do, but they’re ready for you when you get destructive.”
Swanson-Canty said she believes that workforce development programs could help both longtime residents and men staying at the New York Avenue Shelter, which is also located in the neighborhood. She pointed out that the city has been promising a community center to Ivy City for years.
“Just give us what you said you would,” said Swanson-Canty. Most recently the city’s 2006 comprehensive economic development plan called for a community center and additional green space in Ivy City.
The neighborhood activists have found support from Parisa Narouzi, founder and director of grassroots community organizing group Empower DC. In fact, Narouzi’s initial work with Ivy City is what moved her to start the group. :
“I credit Ivy City with being the place I learned the most about community organizing,” said Narouzi. “It’s really challenging because everything is stacked against the community.”
Nontheless, city officials have argued the Crummell School site is needed for charter buses. The vehicles that would be parking at the school were displaced from Union Station in 2012 when inner city buses moved there from the 1st Street NE Greyhound station. Neighbors of the Greyhound facility have said they don’t want the bus depot either and Ivy City advocates say they can sympathize.
“We don’t want to push our community’s problems off to someone else’s” said Swanson-Canty. “We want the mayor to solve this properly.” She still wonders why a portion of the RFK Stadium lots could not be utilized. City officials have said that they considered that option but ruled it out due to uncertainty about the long-term availability of the site.
In her December injunction, Judge Macaluso ruled that city officials should have reached out to Ivy City’s ANC 5B in developing plans for the bus lot.
City officials argued that the city did notify Ivy City’s neighborhood commission, ANC 5B. The notice was delivered in November 2011 in the form of a 97-page list of upcoming city projects. The plans for the Crummell lot were listed on page 63.
In testimony at the December hearing, Michael Durso, a project manager from the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development noted that city officials ended up approaching the neighborhood civic association instead of the ANC in December 2011, because it was “more vocal.”
In response, Judge Macaluso noted that that by “regard[ing] ANC 5B as ‘less vocal’ … the District.created a self-fulfilling prophecy that the ANC would remain so.”
Civic association member Swanson-Canty recalls the ICCA’s presence at the first meeting, held in December of 2011.
“We were there, but small in number,” she said. While attendance and resistance from the community grew at subsequent meetings, Swanson-Canty said she and her neighbors were told the project was going to move forward regardless.
“They really ignored our vote,” agreed Williams, her childhood friend and neighbor.
Narouzi said that if the Ivy City ruling is allowed to stand, it will benefit other neighborhoods as well.
“The city violates the ANC statute all over the place,” Narouzi claims. “Our case gives a legal history to this, to say no actually that’s not okay.”
As planned, up to 65 buses will be allowed to park at the Ivy City facility at any given time, A lounge area would accommodate drivers waiting to pick up their groups of tourists and other patrons. City officials point out that the facility’s operating hours, from 7a.m. to 7 p.m., and access routes which have been restricted to main roads are designed to prevent excess pollution. District law already prohibits vehicles from idling for longer than three minutes.
But opponents say the city has not provided reliable estimates about how many buses would be laying over in the lot each day.
Narouzi has pulled together a team of students and professors from four local universities to take a closer look at Ivy City’s air quality. The George Washington University most recently joined the team, along with Howard, Trinity, and the University of Maryland. The involvement in the project has given the scholars a sense of the importance of their skills.
“Parisa has gotten all of us head-in-the-clouds scientists to work for real change in the community,” said Howard University atmospheric science expert and professor Vernon Morris.
“She’s just doing a fantastic job conveying the sense of urgency.”
A pungent smell in the community’s air gives Morris a sense that pollution is present but the scientific evidence is still inconclusive. At the December 2012 hearing, Morris was only able to provide 10 days worth of air quality measurements. Instead of revealing unacceptably high levels of pollution, both sides agreed the measurements came in below the limits established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Yet a far more extensive study is needed to truly understand the air quality in the community, said Morris.the community’s air gives Morris a sense that pollution is present but the scientific evidence is still inconclusive. At the December 2012 hearing, Morris was only able to provide 10 days worth of air quality measurements. Instead of revealing unacceptably high levels of pollution, both sides agreed the measurements came in below the limits established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“In order to answer the questions of the community, you really need to conduct a long term study, 1 year plus, to gauge the true effects,” said Morris. “Establishing a baseline is a difficult thing.”
Such a study is necessary because many pollutants are seasonal – depending upon the industries and activities that operate at different times of the year, and at what frequency.
“The timeline the city is moving on really doesn’t allow for proper scientific investigation to take place,” said Morris.
Periodic studies on levels of particulate matter such as black carbon and formaldehyde have been ongoing, but a full year long study has not been done. Morris’ own monitoring equipment was shipped off for other research before being returned to allow him to continue to study the air quality in Ivy City. The nearest city monitoring station is located at River Terrace, over two miles away.
Looking ahead, Swanson-Canty said the neighborhood is not giving up, regardless of what happens with the Mayor’s appeal.
“We’re gonna keep fighting,” she said, “even if it means lining up residents in the street to keep the buses from coming in.”
Straggling in late and from all directions on a recent evening, members of the Arlington Tigers, and a few folks who just wanted to play a little soccer, gathered at a community park in suburban Virginia.
Just one more week for practice. Then July 19, the Tigers, would board a bus to New York City to compete in the Street Soccer USA National Open Cup Championship.
On July 20, they would join Street Soccer USA teams made up of homeless and formerly homeless athletes from all over the country. At these games, players vie for victory and perhaps a place on the US National team that will go on to represent America in the 48-nation Homeless World Cup. And they also dream of more basic things as well: stable housing, decent jobs, better lives.
The nonprofit Street Soccer USA aims to help them, building teamwork, sportsmanship and job readiness skills through play.
On this recent evening, Tigers coach Sarah Morse arrived on the scene with a load of equipment: jerseys, shorts, socks, cleats, soccer balls, goals and cones. Greeting most players by name or nickname, she worked to make each man feel valued and welcome.
Then the Tigers begin with their usual warm-ups; running around the makeshift field Morse has set up with neon cones behind the baseball diamonds of the park. Next came stretching and some touch work. Then, finally, the men got to play.
The Tigers are sponsored by the Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network (A-SPAN), a non-profit that serves Arlington area’s homeless population. But they can also count on support from a growing number of community volunteers.
“Most people come once a week, but there are a lot of new folks,” said Morse, who works for A-SPAN.
This year will mark the young team’s second National Cup journey.
Only two men present at the recent evening practice went to New York for last year’s Cup. One of them was Dalitso Kumtumanji, 47, from Malawi, who grew up playing the sport.
“I’m from Africa, so that’s the game,” he said with a smile. Kumtumanji’s favorite position is defender, but street soccer is played in teams of four against four on small custom-built courts so each player must take on all positions.
During the Cup, teams are allowed to bring up to eight players, so that during the games, they can be subbed out, but last year, the Tigers only had five players. Because of their lack of substitutes, Kumtumanji said the men grew tired quickly. “There were too many games- one game after another,” he said.
Then too, the team only practices from spring until the fall. When the A-SPAN emergency shelter opens in the winter, Morse has other duties that take her away from the Tigers.
Still, she hopes to find a way to help the team continue to evolve.
“Hopefully this winter we’ll get into an indoor team,” noted Morse. Then, her attention turned toward the cup. She noted that the North Carolina, New York and Minneapolis teams would be the ones to beat.
Look for coverage of the Cup in the next issue of Street Sense or follow it live on our Twitter and follow #tigerscup13.
By Angela Harvey
For years Gracie Cunningham felt her limited reading skills were holding her back from job opportunities.
She cleaned office buildings while raising her children and helping to raise her grandsons. But when she lost her job and her unemployment benefits ran out, she decided it was time to reach for her goal of literacy.
“Something inside of me said, ‘you can do better.’ It was in my heart to do it. The man upstairs said to me, ‘go on and go to school. You can do it,’” Cunningham said. “No one is ever too old to go back to school.”
This month the D.C. City Council showed its support for adult education when it approved a $1 million increase in funding for adult literacy programs in the FY14 Budget Support Act bill. The council had to decide how to spend the city’s $50 million surplus. In all, $4.3 million dollars was allocated for adult and family education programs that offer post-secondary education and workforce readiness. The Office of the State Superintendent of Education predicts the money will assist over 3,400 adult learners, like Cunningham, to improve their reading, math, and computer skills, earn a GED or get career training.
These days, Cunningham, 58, attends the adult basic literacy education, ABLE, classes at Literacy Volunteers and Advocates, a nonprofit organization dedicated to addressing problems of illiteracy. In two locations in the District, LVA offers classes, one-on-one tutoring and a summer book club. It assists adults with phonics, life-skills reading, math, computer skills and more. Teachers use a proven method to teach adults how to read, said LVA’s executive director Rita Daniels.
“The first rule in adult education is adults learn best in topics they want to know or need to know,” Daniels noted. The lesson offered “must meet their immediate needs or it’s not going to work.”
Topics have included reading the book for the driver’s license test, understanding bills or statements, and following recipes.
Daniels is passionate about helping adults gain confidence through literacy. Her own grandmother never learned to read or write during her lifetime.
“I can’t imagine what she went through not ever writing her name, not ever being able to read her Bible,” she said. “That bothers me to this day.”
While the average learner at LVA is 45 years old, students range in age from older teenagers to people in their 80s. The organization does not like to describe reading abilities by grade level, but says most students are below a sixth-grade reading level when they start. Several learners got their high school diploma without being able to read proficiently.
“There is definitely an array of abilities in the classes,” said Koya M. Bakare, the volunteer coordinator. “When you measure by grade level it is not all-encompassing. Someone who maybe at a fourth-grade reading level may also be at a higher level in math.”
Nationally, about 15 percent of adults lack basic literacy skills. It can be difficult for them to fill out a job application, maintain a bank account or help their children with school work. Locally, about 85,000 District residents- nearly 20 percent of the population- struggle with reading, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
The increase in city funding will go a long way for organizations like LVA. The weekly summer book club will have up to 50 participants when it begins July 16. When regular classes start again in September, LVA expects to serve more than 200 learners in the ABLE classes and one-on-one tutoring sessions.
Cunningham said she has made significant progress in her reading and math skills since beginning the classes and working with a tutor. She started in 2011, and comes to the center daily. The staff praised her as a highly-motivated learner. She reads constantly, participates in peer teaching and regularly does homework. Her confidence builds with each small milestone in her journey to a lifelong objective.
“My goal is to get my GED. I will continue with these classes as long as it takes to reach that goal,” Cunningham said. “And when I move up that ladder, I’m going to help other people.”
by Mark Rose,
Voters in Arlington County will get another chance to decide whether to establish a local housing authority.
A government agency would help address the dwindling supply of affordable housing in the affluent county, say members of the Green Party of Arlington County, who collected the 2,845 signatures required to get the question on the ballot for the November election.
“The cost of renting here costs more than anywhere else” in the area, said Green Party leader John Reeder.“The county needs to be doing something to help the people,” he added.
A 2008 referendum to establish a housing authority in the county went down to defeat. Yet Reeder and other supporters say that development pressures and displacement of low-wage workers have continued since then.
And some research appears to support their position. The 20,000 private market-rate apartments that were available in Arlington in 2000 to people earning 60 percent or less of the median area income, slid to 5,300 by 2011, according to the Virginia Tech Center for Housing Research.
Reeder and other Green Party leaders argue that a county housing agency would bring new focus to the job of preserving and creating affordable housing-and would be eligible to garner funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to support such efforts.
But Arlington County Board members and affordable housing nonprofit directors oppose the idea of the county housing authority. County Board Vice Chair Jay Fisette said the agency is not needed because Arlington already has one of the best affordable housing programs in the country.
“I have no doubt that this community I live in does more to support and fund affordable housing than any other locality in Virginia,” said Fisette in a telephone interview. He noted that Arlington allocates five percent of its budget to this cause.
“The investment we make dwarfs other localities,” said Fisette, who like other opponents, argued that rather than providing new tools or making new funds available, a housing authority would add another administrative cost to the county budget.
Arlington County has more than 6,000 units of affordable housing, which makes up 14-15 percent of its housing stock, said board member Christopher Zimmerman. In addition, the county has a revolving fund to supplement the supply and requires developers to provide affordable housing in many new projects.
Nina Janopaul, president and CEO of Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing, dismissed the idea of a county housing authority getting funding from an overstretched HUD. She said the nation as a whole already has a $25 billion backlog of unfunded public housing needs.
“In this context,” Janopaul said, “I see virtually no chance that a new Arlington County public housing authority could access new funding from HUD.”
Walter Webdale, president and CEO of Arlington County’s AHD Inc., which also deals with affordable housing, agreed, saying the idea is outdated.
“It was a wonderful idea 30 years ago, but as of now HUD doesn’t have any new money to fund a housing authority,” Webdale said.
The county board plans to discuss the measure at either its July 13 or July 16 meeting. It must discuss the issue 90 days before the election, Board spokesperson Diana Sun said.
Swami experienced homelessness at eight years of age after his mother lost her job and could no longer afford the rent on their Illinois apartment.
For two years the mother and son lived in shelters, until his mother found employment and they got a stable place. Things started normalizing and “life was somewhat peaceful.” But at age 12, Swami was removed from his home by the state Department of Children and Family Services after reports of abuse and neglect.
Thus began his two year journey through the foster care system. Swami, 19, now a sophomore at the University of Illinois, wrote in an essay that he had seven foster care placements and “about 700 horrifying memories to accompany those placements.”
Swami shared his story June 17 during a discussion at the Rayburn House Office Building, along with 12 other young adults who experienced homelessness as minors. They are college students from across the country who received a $2,000 scholarship a year and a half ago from the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.
“We want policymakers to hear directly from the youth,” said Barbara Duffield, policy director of the association. Several congressional staff members attended the discussion. She hopes they share with their bosses “an understanding of why youth become homeless, and of the gaps in the services available to them.”
Nationally, more than 1 million children experienced homelessness during the 2010-11 school year — a 14 percent increase from the previous year. In the District, there were more than 3,000 homeless residents enrolled in school during the 2010-11 school year, a 22 percent increase in one year, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
The Department of Education defines homelessness as being without a fixed, regular, adequate nighttime residence. This includes those who are sharing the housing of others; living in hotels and motels, trailer parks, camping grounds, emergency or transitional housing; awaiting foster care placement; and living in areas not designed for sleeping or in substandard housing.
“Education is an important way for young people to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness in their families,” said Barb Dexter, a homeless education liaison for the Anchorage School District, who moderated the discussion.
Although the individual stories were unique, several commonalities were shared when students identified factors that contributed to their family’s unstable housing situation: working parents unable to afford housing, single parents, parents with drug or alcohol addictions, incarcerated parents, parents with health problems, being kicked out, and leaving to escape “family drama” such as domestic violence.
“When you’re in a situation where the ones causing all of your heartache and stress is your family, you really don’t have anyone to turn to,” said Raven, 20, a sophomore at Louisiana State University. “Teachers and counselors might listen, but they can’t understand what you’re going through.”
Nicholas, 20, a sophomore at the University of North Carolina, said he focused on work to avoid dealing with his reality. “If you keep your mind busy, you don’t have time to think of where am I going to sleep, or when is the next time I’m going to get food?”
Several students described being reluctant to disclose their living situation or lack of parental involvement with teachers and school administrators due to embarrassment or not wanting to be labeled as a troubled youth.
“When a teenager is homeless, a lot of people think they are a problem child or that it must be something that they’ve done,” said Tina, 20, a junior at Salem State University. “But that’s usually not the case. We are the victims of our parents’ decisions or unfortunate situations.”
To ensure that students who are experiencing homelessness have the best chance at completing high school, the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act requires states to have a state coordinator for homeless education and a homeless education liaison in each school district. Some of the larger districts often have their own homeless education programs, said Jan Moore, a program specialist at the National Center for Homeless Education, a technical assistance center that works with school districts to make sure the law is implemented.
The law focuses on school access and success. Each state gets federal money that is disbursed to the school districts through a competitive subgrant program. The school district liaison is responsible for working with students to remove barriers to enrollment, to maintain satisfactory attendance, and to reach academic achievement standards. Annual state performance reports monitor the school districts’ adherence to the law and compares the districts receiving grants to the ones that are not, Moore said.
“The McKinney-Vento is a non-funded mandate. Only about 9 percent of school districts get subgrants,” Moore said. “The other 91 percent are serving kids without receiving any federal funds, and the burden falls on the school districts.”
A majority of the students at the discussion credited involved teachers and education support professionals with helping them excel in school and make it into college, saying they were advocates who often filled the role of a substitute parent.
“I had a phenomenal support group of four teachers who I called my four moms,” said Spencer, 20, a junior at University of Wisconsin. “They made sure I went to school and kept my grades up. They always made sure I had what I needed, if it was a bed that night, or food, or whatever. Without their support I definitely would not be where I am right now.”
Irene, 19, a junior at Texas State University, said a supportive guidance counselor encouraged her to go to college because of her high academic achievement, but worries there are students who might not get the same type of help.
“It wasn’t until the school noticed I had good grades that I felt like I was important,” she said. “There are so many kids with problems who don’t get good grades and are not going to get noticed.”
For students who were considered to be unaccompanied youths, their lack of guardianship made it difficult for them to meet certain requirements, or to utilize programs available for low-income families. Many recalled forging their parents’ signatures on report cards and other forms. Some said they were not able to apply for free and reduced lunch, or for financial aid for college because they did not have someone to fill out the applications.
“Being in a position where I was unaccompanied and not necessarily adopted by someone else left me with no guardianship,” said Tia, 19, a sophomore at Meredith College.
Their experience with homelessness or broken families is not far from the students’ minds as they continue their college educations. Some have taken on the legal guardianship of younger siblings. Others said they struggle to pay for housing and tuition due to a lack of financial support from parents or guardians. These are reasons why it was important for them to have the discussion in Washington, D.C., to hopefully encourage changes in education policies that affect children in similar situations.
“I want lawmakers to be compelled to do something,” Duffield said. “You have to be educated, but you also have to be moved, and that’s what these kids’ stories do.”
Street Sense was asked not to use some last names to protect privacy.
By Cynthia Mewborn
Every farmers market has its own personality.
I like the one at 14th and U Streets NW for its urban feel, its accessibility and its diversity.
The vendors at 14th and U offer products that make this market especially quaint and unique. Since this is a producer-only market, the vendors themselves grow, raise or create what they have for sale. They are all local too, coming from the Chesapeake Watershed region, according to market director Robin Shuster.
That means you can expect plenty of delicious and fresh vegetables and breads, meats and fruits.
What’s more, the farmers and producers at U & 14 Street Farmer’s Market accept all forms of federal nutrition assistance benefits, including SNAP (food stamps,) WIC and WIC Cash Value (for mothers and their young children); Senior “Get Fresh” Checks and Produce Plus vouchers (for low-income elders) and vouchers from the innovative FVRx program.
FVRx, now in its second year, is a fruit and vegetable prescription program developed and supported by the national nonprofit Wholesome Wave to track the impact of increased fresh fruit and vegetable consumption among low-income, obese patients. Currently, 25 local families are taking part to see whether by eating fruits and vegetables, participating in exercise and cooking classes, they can reduce the risk factors for obesity, high cholesterol and other health-related problems.
Now let me tell you about some of the vendors at 14th and U and some of the bounty they offer:
Pennsylvania’s Mccleaf’s Orchard brings a variety of fruits: apples, peaches, plums, apricots, blue berries, cherries as well as a range of seasonal vegetables. Some of their specialty items includes, apple butter, apple sauce, apple cider and unsweetened apple juice.
Mountain View Farms, a USDA certified organic farm in Virginia, sells beets, snap beans, carrots, kale, onions, peppers, strawberries, chard and a variety of other vegetables and fruits.
From the micro-climate of Virginia’s Northern Neck, Garner Produce brings garden salads, zucchini, squash blooms, turnips, herbs, springtime flowers, hot pepper preserves and bloody Mary mix.
Pecan Meadow Farm offers organically-fed beef, sausages, lamb and goat, duck, and rabbit. The farm stall at the market also sells duck eggs, brown chicken eggs and goose eggs and these particular eggs make excellent omelets. Pecan Meadow, which is located in Pennsylvania, also grows corn, Indian pop corn and makes cornmeal.
Truck Patch from Maryland sells produce and meats including pork. The farm is known for its asparagus and salads and raises its own pigs.
Kuhn Orchard from Pennsylvania even offers apples in June. According to farmer Mary Margate they pick them at maturity and store them in a controlled atmosphere which helps in keeping the apples crisp for a longer periods of time. They have also have absolutely gracious rhubarb and make their own honey and jams.
Then there are baked goods by local bakeries. One called Wisked offers pies made from scratch. Among their famous cookies to check out are salty oak and milk chocolate nutella. The sweets are wonderful and they donate their leftovers over to local hospice house.
Another bakery, PANoRAMA, creates a variety of French styles breads whole wheat and white, rye, pumpernickel and they also make French style pastries.
Cherry Glen Farm from Maryland specializes in southern French style goat cheese. They offer ricotta and an award-winning brie-like cheese. They even offer free samples of these cheeses, made from milk from their own goats.
I must also mention a vendor known as Number 1 Son who specializes in pickled sauerkraut, pickles, salsa and kimchi. Number 1 Son is definitely a must-taste if you’re a pickle connoisseur.
By Reginald Black
There is an old saying that a woman’s work is never done.
The same can be said for local advocates for the poor and homeless, particularly at the height of the District’s budget season.
Monday, May 13 marked a marathon push, starting with the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development (CNHED) advocacy day. The CNHED advocates mustered in the District’s Wilson building before breaking up into smaller groups and visiting the offices of all the members of the city council to lobby for spending on programs such as the Housing Production Trust Fund, local rent supplements and permanent supportive housing.
Advocates who visited the offices of Councilmembers Jack Evans and Muriel Bowser had brief conversations with the council members themselves. City Council Chair Phil Mendelson was in a meeting but the group who visited his office got to meet with Joe Wolf, who works for the office of the city budget director.
The advocates used their time with the officials to stress the urgency of getting chronically homeless people housed. Parliamentarian for the People for Fairness Coalition, Richard Embden spoke about his own experience as a person who is chronically homeless. He talked about how hard it is for homeless people to structure their days around a normal routine.
“Your whole day is oriented by getting a meal and a bed,” Embden said.
Drawing upon her own experiences with homelessness, Jennifer Mclaughlin said if it weren’t for a rapid-rehousing effort by the city “I would have been back on the streets.”
And that was just Monday. Clearly this was going to be a tiring week for city officials.
On Tuesday, the Washington Interfaith Network, along with groups like Miriam’s Kitchen, called and sent emails to the city council. On Wednesday, the Fair Budget Coalition rallied for issues that affect low-income and homeless individuals. They brought a homemade house created by children living at the city’s family shelter at DC General Hospital, as well as apples and bananas to deliver to the city council. Councilmember Jim Graham and the chair, Phil Mendelson came out to address members of the coalition, buoying their spirits with the feeling they were being heard. A group also met with Mendelson’s staff to discuss the importance of spending on housing programs.
“I would like to see you all dedicate money to programs for seniors,” advocate Roosevelt George said. “The shelter is really hard on us.”
Then advocate Eric Sheptock launched into his pitch for younger homeless people.
“We need to get the working-aged into housing.”
A woman named Twildate added: “We’re asking for you to be fair.”
As the week neared its end, on Thursday May 16, the grassroots group SHARC (Shelter Housing and Respectful Change) held a rally in support of the many efforts to help those who are homeless, stressing again the importance of investing in housing programs that help both single people and families leave homelessness behind.
Then SHARC members visited each city council member’s office as well as the office of city Mayor Vincent Gray to drop off lists of the demands the advocates had been pushing since Monday.
For the most part, those who are in poverty seem to have had a voice all this week, but the fight continues. Although the amendments to the Homeless Services Reform Act were pulled from the budget, the council still plans to discuss them at a hearing on June 3.
The advocates ended the week hopeful that their work might have had a substantial impact in the city’s policy in the coming weeks.
By Kate Glantz
This is a story of compassion in unlikely places. Of men with very little and men with a lot, doing right by each other because it was the right thing to do. This story begins with Eric Weires, a soft-spoken man from the Midwest with kind eyes and an easy way.
On May 4, Weires left his family and comfortable life in Chicago for a weekend of sightseeing in Washington, D.C. Although he intended to visit many of the nation’s most famous museums and monuments, Weires was not your average tourist. His to-do list also included sleeping on cardboard, sampling the cuisine at local soup kitchens and panhandling.
As CEO of Fine Line Services, a Chicago-based maintenance company, Weires was in town to take the Homeless Challenge, a project designed to let Americans experience the realities of homelessness. The National Coalition for Homelessness has led Homeless Challenge Projects in Washington for more than three decades, and for 48 hours, Weires — the first CEO in Challenge history — would live on the streets penniless and with no guarantee of shelter.
Although the Challenge itself was a new experience, Weires was no stranger to hard times. As a child he thought of homelessness as more than a remote possibility.
“It was always stressful and humiliating and something that always was around the corner. Thankfully, it never happened to me as a kid. But it was rough growing up, real rough.”
Weires viewed the Homeless Challenge as an opportunity to raise the profile of an issue close to his heart and renew a greater sense of appreciation for his own life and how far he has come.
Besides photo identification for security measures and his cellphone to update a video blog, he carried only a map of the city, a checklist of activities representative of homeless life, and a shiny, black industrial-sized trash bag.
Day One began with a walk down Embassy Row. After a brief detour getting lost in Rock Creek Park, Weires located the Capitol and headed downtown. Making progress on his checklist, he stopped at an upscale hotel to request scissors and cardboard to make a sign. He was relieved when the concierge obliged.
After a brief internal debate about how best to frame his appeal, Weires scribbled in blue Sharpie marker: “3 Kids. Just wana get home. I’d appreciate the help!”
He camped out on a corner near the White House and collected $20 within an hour. Taking a passive approach to panhandling, Weires did not exchange a single word with anyone walking by. He was invisible, but he would not go hungry.
Making concessions for others and his own past behavior, he mused, “Who has time to start a conversation with friends [on the street], much less a homeless stranger? There are too many. You would have to stop on every corner.”
Weires tucked his sign into his pocket and headed to Subway for an early dinner.
As night fell, he met up with his homeless guide, Andre, at Franklin Square Park on 14th and I streets NW.
While Andre is a full-time student on scholarship at a local university, he has no source of income beyond what he earns guiding Homeless Challenge participants so he cannot afford to move off the streets.
The night was cold and the bench was hard. This was expected. What Weires did not anticipate were the enormous rats skittering below his feet. For the first time that day, Weires was ready to pull the plug.
Fortunately, Andre knew of a “nice alley” behind a nearby hotel, which was well kept as alleys go. The men pulled cardboard from a dumpster for makeshift mattresses and settled in for the night.
After a few fitful hours of sleep, the two parted ways as the sun rose. Weires was suddenly faced with the gravity of what he described as “the endless day.”
“There’s tons of time. It’s a little daunting, man. This just goes on forever. If I had to do this for a week, month, year or multiple years … I can see where others lose it.”
Weires also reflected on the chore it had been to locate public restrooms throughout the city. An obstacle, he noted, that could be even more stressful for women. “Even McDonald’s locks their [bathroom] door,” he said.
But compassion was also found in unlikely places. “[That morning] I went into a Starbucks and they were really nice. So nice that I asked them if they wouldn’t mind giving me a cup of their joe. So I got a free Starbucks,” he said.
Feeling positive despite his aching feet, Weires trekked across the city, with $12 remaining and his trash bag in hand. He spent much of the day alone and in silence. Glancing at the bag, he said, “At first it was a little embarrassing, but 99 percent of people didn’t notice me.”
Around 9 p.m., Weires met his second homeless guide, Steve, a self-professed “mother hen” of Homeless Challenge participants who classifies himself in the upper echelon of homelessness. In exchange for housing, he lives with and cares for an ailing senior citizen.
Weires and Steve made camp in an apparently rat-free park on Pennsylvania Avenue. The park bustled with other homeless men and women who for myriad reasons were not sleeping in one of the District’s shelters.
It was another cold and windy night. With his shoe as a pillow, Weires was comfortable enough but could not stay warm. No stranger to cruel elements in the middle of night, Steve had an extra blanket, which he tucked around Weires as he slept. The night passed without incident.
Eager to escape the morning chill, the men made their way to the Church of the Epiphany on 13th and G streets, a place of worship and refuge for anyone in need. Sensitive to extremes of both of weather and circumstance, the church opens its doors at 7 a.m. every Sunday with offerings of Bible study, support groups and a warm meal.
In his final act as a Homeless Challenge participant, Weires used what cash remained from panhandling to buy a gift card from McDonald’s. In less than a minute, the card was handed off to a man in need.
As his weekend peers ambled along another eternal day, Weires slipped off the street as quietly as he had come.
Weires entered the challenge to help shine a light on the untold burdens faced by homeless people in America. For two days, he was largely invisible and powerless, his thoughts and talents masked by rumpled clothes and empty pockets.
But as a corporate executive, Weires’ recognized he has the platform to be a catalyst for change.