Homelessness and poverty are among the most painful and challenging issues facing our community today. The destructive hardship, hunger and hopelessness faced by the broken and vulnerable men, women and children in our city is profound. Regrettably, Washington, DC, has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the nation.
For more than 139 years, Central Union Mission has been a leader in serving people experiencing homelessness and poverty in Washington, DC. Compelled by our Christian faith, the Mission was initially founded with the goal of serving homeless veterans of the Civil War. Over time, our work has grown substantially to serve men, women and children in need in our nation’s capital. Today, we remain 100 percent privately-funded and operate four facilities that provide a world-class platform to achieve long-term, sustainable and systemic change in the lives of the people we serve, while daily meeting the immediate needs of the chronically homeless and those at-risk of homelessness and poverty.
Clearly, we are not just a homeless shelter, but we are both a provider of life-sustaining food and shelter and an agent of long-term transformation. We serve all people, regardless of race, religion, age, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or any other characteristic.
Our vision is to provide a world-class platform to achieve long-term, sustainable and systemic change in the lives of the people we serve, while daily meeting the immediate needs of the chronically homeless and those at-risk of homelessness and poverty.
Our passion is to serve and our programs will continue to do what we have done so well for 139+ years: shelter the homeless and feed the hungry. However, we are not content to simply maintain the status quo. We are striving to parlay our years of experience and expertise to restore the men we serve to wholeness in order for them to permanently get off of the streets, and we are serving women and children to meet their basic needs and mitigate their risk of homelessness.
People end up homeless for a variety of reasons. On the streets, a person’s physical, emotional and psychological health becomes compromised, and an acculturated lifestyle makes it increasingly difficult to permanently escape homelessness. Once this cycle sets in, a person’s ability to acquire and maintain a job is diminished, family relationships are destroyed, addictions emerge, mental and physical health declines, self-esteem drops, and a downward spiral ensues.
Central Union Mission created the Restoration and Transformation Program (RTP) to provide a platform for men who have the desire and mental/emotional wherewithal to rehabilitate and stabilize all aspects of their lives and return to normal life. The 16-month program begins with a robust assessment of each person’s mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, educational and vocational status and an Individual Development Plan is created. A multidisciplinary team of social workers, chaplains, teachers, vocational instructors, doctors, therapists, and others walk with each man toward transformation. The goal is transformation and systemic, life-long change through comprehensive wraparound services.
The vast majority of men who come to the Mission suffer with some history of addiction. We know that unless the addiction is addressed at the beginning, a person will not be successful in our program (or in life), so we provide both in-house programs to address addictions, as well as intensive residential treatment through a close partnership with a third-party provider. Once a man is fully matriculated into the program, he is provided with a stable and safe environment with food and shelter so that he can focus on the hard work ahead of him.
The program and each day are highly structured, and over the course of time every aspect of their lives are being addressed and transformed. Progressively, each man walks through his past issues. Destructive thought and behavior patterns are addressed, addiction treatment continues, physical/dental/mental health issues are treated and their spiritual beliefs are explored. A strong program for workforce development and education provides opportunities to attain a GED, skill certifications, life-skills, hard and soft job skills and long-term employment placement. The goals are to equip each man with what he needs to be successful in the long-term. Before he leaves our facility, we work to ensure he has a job, transitional or permanent housing, life skills, ongoing addiction support, and a church partnership, if desired. Restoration of family relationships are explored, as well.
One thing the pandemic made absolutely clear: thousands of families are just one paycheck away from not being able to meet their basic needs of food, housing, utilities and more. The Mission has strengthened its support for families who are homeless, as well as those at-risk of homelessness. The CFRC provides a co-located spectrum of services that are critical to preventing family homelessness. Based on our 139+ years of experience, we know there are several key factors that influence a person’s vulnerability to homelessness and poverty, as well as their ability to overcome it. Among these are basic needs such as food and shelter; however, comprehensive wraparound services such as job training, healthcare, addiction treatment and childcare are essential in ensuring a family’s long-term success. Greatly expanding on the services the Mission already provides, the CFRC delivers the following:
Providing these services in one location creates ‘one-stop’ accessibility and a continuum of services that offers comprehensive family care and transformation. This model is viewed as best-practice across the country.
Combatting homelessness and poverty requires a vast array of agencies, services and partnerships. Public-private partnerships are critical, as well. While we work hand-in-hand with a number of other organizations, churches and DC government agencies, there is a critical need for increased partnership, collaboration and advocacy to avoid duplication, mitigate gaps in service delivery and promote shared investments in the community.
As a long-standing leading voice against homelessness and poverty in DC, we are working to provide additional leadership, direction and connectedness among stakeholders. As such, we are engaging both DC government and our peers to “move-the-needle” on accessibility and coordination of services, and to better leverage resources and reduce duplication of efforts where they may be wasteful. Among churches and other faith-based institutions, we are helping to ensure that homelessness and poverty in our community are among their ministry priorities.
The goal is to increase accessibility of services for helping people in need while creating more efficiency and impact.
Washington, DC, has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the nation. Despite the common misperception that all homeless people are either drug users, mentally ill or just not trying hard enough, the reality is that people from all walks of life fall victim to it — young, old, male, female, singles and families, educated, uneducated, black, white, brown and all ethnicities and nationalities. Homelessness and poverty painfully dehumanize individuals and puts stress on our socio-economic systems. It is a problem that we as a civil society must face.
We at Central Union Mission live by the Biblical calling to “love thy neighbor.” We help restore hope and dignity to men, women and children who are going through what may be the hardest times in their lives. Moreover, the Mission’s work helps to create safer streets, reduce unemployment, and reduce dependence on local government. The Mission stands as an indispensable partner for individuals, churches, corporations, foundations and government in our collective efforts to help those in need in our nation’s capital. Our strengths are found in the following:
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