Our History

historyCentral Union Mission is the oldest social service agency in the District of Columbia. It was founded in 1884 by the Reverend Latham Douglass, a young man filled with compassion for the thousands of homeless, neglected men who wandered Pennsylvania Avenue, many of whom were Civil War veterans. Strong church support led the steady growth into the 21st Century enabling the Mission to purchase and later build increasingly larger facilities.

The Mission has continuously operated an emergency shelter for homeless men and been a place for spiritual uplift and recovery. It has survived the Great Depression, two world wars, 24 presidential administrations, neighborhood transitions, and numerous relocations.

In 1915, John Bennett arrived as the Mission's first long-term superintendent. In 1917, under his wife Jean, the Children's Emergency Home ministry began. The Mission built large downtown facilities, and revenue and ministry grew even through The Great Depression.

Camp Bennett was opened in 1934 as a place for children to go during the summer and for farming by men out of work. During World War II, the Mission ministered to the thousands of lonely service men and women in the nation's capital.

After the war and deaths of John and Jean Bennett, Rev. and Mrs. Herbert Eberhardt were called to lead the Mission and Children's Home until 1962. The Eberhardts were leaders in the national rescue mission movement and oversaw increased ministry to men, women, children and families and broader use of tools such as the radio.

The tradition of service built by the Bennett's and Eberhardt's has been reinforced by their successors with changes in ministry to adapt to the needs of the day while maintaining the core values and services of our founders. Even today, Central Union Mission is still growing. In the past few years, private funders helped the Mission renovate the historic Gales School at 65 Massachusetts Ave., NW, to become a state-of-the-art homeless shelter, that became ready for occupancy in 2013.