Washington DC is a city of extremes. There is high wealth and power alongside poverty. Officially, 19% of Washingtonians live below the poverty line. DC also takes the title of the most expensive city to live. DC has the highest use of food stamp percentage in the United States. 30.5 %of homes with children are unable to provide enough food. This ranks 2nd highest in the nation.
Substance abuse, poverty and violent crime are examples of some of the wide range of interrelated health issues occurring in DC. The city ranks 21st in the country for perscription drug overdose mortality rates. DC’s problems with heroin, crack and cocaine have been well documented as well. 2015 brought a spike in murders, the highest since 2008. Whether living or visiting DC, it is important to give back to those less fortunate and contribute to the solutions of issues the city faces. Every time I am in DC, I make it a priority to volunteer with the organizations that are working to alleviate the issues.
DC Central Kitchen is steps from Union Station and the Capitol. They provide three meals a day every day of the week. Volunteers can check their calendar and sign up for shifts in the morning, afternoon or evening. DC Central Kitchen is unique because they also provide culinary job training, provide produce to neighborhood corner markets, and conduct food reclaiming programs.
I’ve mentioned Loaves and Fishes before, but I really like what they do. In hand with providing a hot meal, they encourage volunteers to interact with the guests who come to eat. In doing so, the community builds bridges with their homeless and in-need neighbors. Loaves and Fishes is located in the Columbia Heights-Mt. Pleasant area, servicing a larger Latin American population than other feeding centers.
Focus North America spearheads a summer feeding program. When schools are out, children are unable to receive free school meals. The organization makes sack breakfasts and lunches every weekday and delivers them to children in Southeast DC. You can also give back to DC by volunteering for shifts twice a day.
Thrive DC works to prevent and end homelessness in DC by providing a variety of services. They have programs targeted towards substance abuse, employment assistance and re-entry programs for women, among others. Volunteers are able to help in a variety of areas during the week.
Street Sense is a biweekly street newspaper. It strives to create economic opportunities for those experiencing homelessness. Those experiencing homelessness, or formally homeless, write 50% of the paper. Street Sense sells the papers to vendors (those experiencing homelessness) for 50 cents. Vendors then sell the papers for $2. Another way you can give back is by supporting this endeavor, helping to deliver papers to the vendors, volunteering at special events or helping with forum planning.
Try doing the Homeless Challenge
Having homes, it is difficult for many of use to understand homelessness and we tend to stereotype the reasons behind it. By participating in the homeless challenge, you have the opportunity to experience life on the streets. Those participating spend 72 hours on the streets of DC living like the homeless. You will experience panhandling, looking for places to shower and meet your daily needs and sleeping the streets. In doing so, you are able to see the variety of issues facing the homeless population. You can channel the experience to becoming an advocate or continuing to work with organizations seeking to end homelessness.
Note: The challenge is sponsored by the National Coalition for the Homeless with support from the homeless community. This experience does not exploit or make light of homelessness.
Calvary Women’s Services specializes in addiction recovery in women experiencing homelessness. They provide addiction recovery meetings and relapse prevention support. Calvary also provides therapy and mental health support. Volunteers can help at meal time, leading weekly life discussions or helping with job leads.
N Street Village is a community of empowerment and recovery for women. They provide extensive mental health and physical health services in addition to their drop-in day center and shelter. For addiction recovery, the village has recovery meetings, support groups and housing for those is special circumstances. Volunteers can work either directly or indirectly with those N Street Village serve.
Walker-Whitman Health is a community health center established in 1978. They provide a wide variety of medical and legal services, including addiction recovery. With their addiction treatment, Walker-Whitman tailors the program around the specific needs of the person. Another way to give back to the community is to volunteer to assist with their free clinics and special events.