Blog For The City

Covington & Burling Makes Flagship Gift to Bread for the City’s SE Center Expansion

The law firm of Covington & Burling has made the first gift for an upcoming $15 million expansion of Bread for the City’s Southeast Center on Good Hope Road. This $100,000 contribution will help Bread for the City (BFC) expand its civil legal services practice for low-income individuals living East of the River, and is part of Covington’s commitment with the DC Access to Justice Commission’s “Raising the Bar” Campaign to help bridge the legal services funding gap in the District of Columbia.

legal clinicCovington and BFC have a long partnership, dating back to the early 1990s, when legal services were first offered as part of Bread’s comprehensive approach to fighting poverty. In addition to more than 20 years of financial support, Covington provides BFC with loaned associates, each of whom works part-time for a six-month rotation as a member of BFC’s legal team. These associates provide direct legal services to BFC clients in the housing law area, representing clients in Landlord-Tenant Court and various administrative agencies to fight evictions, improper rent increases, and housing code violations.

“Covington’s support is a critical part of our formula for fighting poverty in the District of Columbia,” says Bread for the City Chief Executive Officer George A. Jones, who is also a member of DC’s Access to Justice Commission. “Their kind of commitment to providing substantial financial and pro bono support to civil legal services is what this city needs if we are to ensure that all residents have access to healthy food, safe and affordable housing, and equal justice under the law.”Bread for the City’s legal clinic provides services to approximately 1,800 low-income DC residents each year, as well as brief service and referrals to several thousand more annually. Unfortunately, the clinic has outgrown the existing space at Bread’s Good Hope Road location. Bread’s legal clients need a larger waiting area and more private meeting rooms where attorneys can speak confidentially with them. And as the legal staff grows to meet the needs of our community, more work space is needed.

Covington’s grant comes from an attorneys’ fee award in a pro bono civil rights case in Arizona in which the firm won an injunction against Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s racial profiling of Hispanic individuals. The firm’s policy is to donate fee awards in such cases to charitable causes.

Cast your cabin fever aside…Spring is here!

Do you have cabin fever? Bread for the City has a solution: plan a volunteer trip to City Orchard this spring!

City Orchard is our 2.75 acre organic fruit orchard in nearby Beltsville, MD, where we’re growing apples, Asian pears, blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries.

Each season, these plants yield thousands of pounds of fresh fruit — all of which are distributed to DC residents in need through Bread for the City’s two food pantry locations.

Volunteers play a very important role in keeping our orchard running. Last year, 900 volunteers helped at City Orchard to harvest, prune, weed, mulch, and more!city orchard

One such group of volunteers who helped regularly at City Orchard was The Mission Continues, an organization that works with veterans facing the challenge of adjusting to life at home. Through their service, The Mission Continues volunteers helped to stake and cover our strawberry patch, harvest fruit, and they even built us a beautiful blue farm table.

The Mission Continues group leader Vu Nguyen says, “Volunteering at the City Orchard has been such an amazing experience for all of our military veteran volunteers. Getting a chance to learn about agriculture and use our skills to help Bread for the City provide fresh fruit and produce has given us all a renewed sense of purpose and passion for what they do. Most importantly, being at the lovely orchard has allowed us to meet some wonderful people who have the same passion to volunteer.

This year, we need YOUR help! Currently, we are in need of volunteers to help with our regular Wednesdays at City Orchard or at one of our upcoming Saturday “Crop Mobs“!

To sign up to volunteer with a group or as an individual, contact a Volunteer Coordinator at volunteer@breadforthecity.org or call 202-959-7865.

Undoing Racism potluck

Tonight in our Northwest Conference Room, we expect 40 community members for the second-in-a-while Undoing Racism potluck. These monthly events, co-sponsored by Bread for the City and Service to Justice, are opportunities to share food and stories, and deepen relationships.

The gatherings have taken different shapes over the years havipotluckng started with alumni from the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond’s Undoing Racism/Community Organizing trainings, but are open to anyone involved in anti-racist work in DC.

The goals are to:
– Connect and energize racial justice work across communities and issues
– Support each other by sharing food, cultural, and healing practices, fun, and frustrations
– Commit to organizing your community to undo racism

Please join us! 6-8pm Wednesday, March 11th at Bread for the City, 1525 7th St NW – Shaw Howard (Green/Yellow) Metro — G2, G8, 64, 70s, 96 Buses.

If you are able, please bring food or drink from your family or community to share.

Questions? Contact Joni at jpodschun at breadforthecity.org or 202-595-7866.

Budget Training and Forums…#WeAreAllDC

At her open house in February, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that she would be hosting a series of three Budget Engagement Forums throughout the city.

The purpose of these forums was to let residents know about the proposed items in her budget, and also to hear directly from residents about what things they would like to see her prioritize.

To help DC residents get vocal about what they wanted to see in the budget, our friends at the Fair Budget Coalition, started a social media campaign that included DC residents and service providers taking pictures with signs that depicted how they would Mayor Bowser budget 3like to see the city spend those funds. Bread for the City teamed up with Fair Budget, So Others Might Eat (SOME), Academy of Hope, Southeast Ministries and Sasha Bruce Youthwork to host a pre-meeting on the day of the forum that was to be held at Anacostia High School.

What would the budget look like if it truly had low-income DC residents at heart? That is the question that community members came together and answered one the morning of February 21st, while fellowshipping over a delicious breakfast.

We honestly weren’t sure how many people were going to show. The snow that was supposed to start at 1:00pm decided to come at 10:00am instead. That didn’t stop over 15 residents from coming out that morning. People wanted change, and they were willing to do what it took to get the ball rolling—snow or no snow!

Monica Kamen from Fair Budget did a mini budget training so that we could all see how the money is currently spent. Then we talked about some of the things that people are tired of seeing in DC, and who they see suffering the most. Finally, I led the group in a visioning activity, where we thought boldly (and radically!) about what sort of DC we would like to live in, and what sorts of priorities it would take to achieve that vision.Mayor Bowser budget 4

Mayor Bowser budgetThe end result was a beautiful tree that laid out the problems, the vision and the proposed solutions that could be addressed by the budget over the next four years.

Though the Budget Forum that was scheduled for that day was eventually canceled, residents were so geared up about the vision that they created, that we all tweeted Mayor Bowser to invite her to meet with the residents who had gathered at Bread. She was unfortunately, not able to make it.

We agreed to set a future date where residents could meet with one of her representatives directly to talk about their vision, and what things they would like to see in the budget.

The rescheduled Budget Forum was February 28th, and over 150 people turned out to tell Mayor Bowser what sorts of things—like truly affordable housing, adult education programs and more—they would like to see in the budget.

What would YOU like to see in the Mayor’s budget? Tweet us using the hashtag #WeAreALLDC!

 

Partners in Quitting: A BFC smoking cessation program

After many months of preparation, enrollment is now open for Bread’s text-message based smoking cessation program called “Partners in Quitting“.

Through an organization called CareMessage, participants receive six weeks of pre-written smoking cessation text messages to their cell phone, some of which are interactive (multiple choice or T/F) with the goal of educating and motivating people trying to quit and giving them some kind of companionship. They can also receive personalized responses to questions or complaints from our staff member Tim or a volunteer (and they can ALSO get anonymously connected with someone else in the program to text with as a Quit Buddy).

Smoking cessationThis program is mostly for people who express a readiness to quit, a desire to learn how to quit, have a cell phone, and receive texts. However, we are willing to both teach people how to text and/or help them get a phone through Safelink or a similar service.

Additionally, there will be an in-person meeting every other Thursday at 2:00 PM starting on March 12th in our NW Center. This will be for people in the program or interested in joining, but also for people not interested, who want to talk about their experiences with smoking. While the text messages are not currently offered in Spanish, this meeting is certainly open to Spanish speakers, and if a speaker of another language is interested, we’d like to find a way for them to be able to join in as well.

Lastly, clients who access our SE Center can enroll as well, but it’s best for them to meet Tim in person, for the time being, to get signed up.

Partners in Quitting is open to employees too, of course!

This project was founded by Rachel Schoenbrun, a member of the George Washington University Healing Clinic (a group of GWU health students who do various activities/projects at Bread for the City and elsewhere). This is all thanks to their initiative and continuing hard work!

 

Undoing Racism

A month ago I had a powerful experience. I spent two days with 45 mostly-young people in a training workshop on “Undoing Racism”. Almost 30 of the 45 were Bread employees or Board members – black, white, mixed, and Asian-American – and were there as part of Bread’s commitment to racial equity.

The program was run by a venerable group, based in New Orleans, the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond (PISAB). It was founded over 35 years ago to address pervasive issues of institutional racism. As Bread’s Board Chairman I had traveled with our CEO, George Jones, our Medical Director, Randi Abramson, and another Board member, Dorothy Hawkins, to New Orleans to study several health clinics; our trip was managed by PISAB, which had deep connections to the area’s clinics. During that visit, we heard an enormous amount about PISAB’s efforts to engender racial equity. It became clear to all of us that this was training that our staff and board needed to have, particularly since over 90% of Bread’s clients are African-American.

To be clear, this wasn’t a training about racial prejudice or people’s attitudes to one another. This was, to me, all about consciousness raising. This was about having the white attendees start to see the world through black people’s eyes and having the black attendees confront a step-by-step analysis of how Eurocentric racism formed our economic, social and governmental institutions.

Race-relationsAll of this was hard, hard to hear, hard to confront, and hard to accept. But the evidence was overwhelming and incontrovertible, and it damns our society from the perspective of social and economic justice. It is important, however, to emphasize that these conclusions were the culmination of two days’ hard work. We were cautioned not to talk about the conclusions because they were so inflammatory, and so difficult to accept without understanding the build-up, that people hearing them without having gone through the training would reject the premise. But these points are too important to our future as a society to leave them unsaid without reliance on a training workshop that relatively few will attend.

It is not a surprise to learn that the financial net worth of whites in America is higher than the financial net worth of blacks. What is a shock – but shouldn’t be with our history of racial discrimination – is that the median wealth of whites is 13 times the median worth of blacks. That, according to the Pew Research Center, the median net worth of a black family in America is just $11,000, compared to white net worth of over $141,000. (Washington Post, 12/12/14). This disparity doesn’t even address income inequality or the disproportionate accretion of wealth by the top 1%.

The Undoing Racism training tracked the formation of economic, social and governmental institutions that consistently discriminated against African-Americans, relegated them to second-class status (if that) and fostered an economic exploitation that has formed what is often called the economic underclass. undoing racism

But to dismiss it solely as an economic phenomenon is to ignore its genesis in a calculated effort to oppress blacks and exploit them. The education, wealth and health outcomes that are the product of that economic, social and governmental oppression and exploitation are the burdens that we face every day at Bread for the City. And for those of us who are steeped in white culture, assuming the privilege that just seems to accrue to us, it was eye-opening and, more to the point, deeply troubling to begin to understand how our African-American friends and clients confront – on a daily basis – a world that seems calculated to diminish them and undervalue them.

Those without economic power are thus trapped in multiple ways, and while Bread for the City is a safety net for those mired in poverty, we would not be pursuing justice if we did not seek to address America’s racial inequities. The Bible commands us, “Justice justice you shall pursue.” Raising consciousness of our society’s inherent racism so that we can change the way we think and act, and move the next generation into a more equitable world, is an important first step. And I am very proud that Bread for the City is in the forefront of that effort.

Paul Taskier cropped

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond Bread – Making Ends Meet in the District

Guest Post by Patrick Sullivan, Director of Field Operations at Nest DC

Believe it or not, I’m the only Nester that was hired with any property management experience. The field is full of folks overwhelmed by the daily drama and, to be honest, the (mostly) unrewarding nature of the work. It’s hard to be stellar under those circumstances. But hey, I was told I didn’t have a choice. I was the kid who slipped through the cracks. Poverty, foster care and an educational system that didn’t know what to do with me. I was pretty sure any job was almost out of reach. Never mind a good job. But a blend of hard work, perseverance and luck led me to a happy marriage and a career(!). I genuinely love working at Nest. With all that, I am even more sensitive to those who have less. That’s why when I get to work, it’s like coming home.

We’re not just a management company here at Nest. We’re aiming to make the city a better place. I’m not gonna lie, when I interviewed and the folks said they cared about community and gave back, I thought they were full of it. Just another part of the sales pitch. But wow. I was wrong. Those boss ladies had me starring in fundraising videos, volunteering, donating and generally thinking about others. And it’s awesome. I’m particularly excited about our work with Bread for the City. They “provide vulnerable residents of Washington, DC, with comprehensive services, including food, clothing, medical care, and legal and social services, in an atmosphere of dignity and respect.” I know what it feels like to be vulnerable. It’s terrible. And I want to help. I want you to help, too. Consider a donation to BFC. I can image there are more than a few lawyers reading this! Can you help out in the legal clinic? Can you put together a food drive at work? What about a clothing drive? It’s not about making time; it’s just about doing the right thing.

We’re always looking for an excuse to give our friends at BFC a shout out. We’ll be donating $1,000 as part of our Washington City Paper “Best of” campaign. If we place in the top three for best management company (or best friend) we’ll kick in even more.Patrick Sullivan Nest DC

 

 

 

 

The Coming Crisis: Social Security Disability Trust Fund Insolvency

BFC SOAR Social Workers Ashley L and Ashley M

BFC SOAR Social Workers Ashley L and Ashley M

Darlene is a 60-year-old DC resident who came to Bread for the City to seek assistance applying for Social Security Disability Benefits through BFC’s SOAR program.*  With help from case workers in our Social Services department, Darlene applied for and received her benefits within a few months.

Social Security disability benefits have made a significant difference in Darlene’s life as she grows older – allowing her to pay rent and utilities in her apartment.  Darlene’s experience is not a rare case –  out of SSDI beneficiaries across the country, seven in ten are age 50 and older, and three in ten are 60 and older.  The average monthly payment of SSDI benefits (benefits based on work history) is $1,017.30, and for many recipients, disability benefits constitute their only income and they are already living close to or below the poverty line.

Recently,there has been political debate on how to handle the long term preservation of these funds.  Some advocates fear that proposed measures in Congress could result in decreased benefits for recipients.

We connected Darlene with Kate Lang of the National Senior Citizens Law Center and on February 11th, Darlene accompanied Ms. Lang as she testified before the U.S. Senate Budget Committee regarding the importance of preserving Social Security disability benefits.**  Ms. Lang shared that Darlene had worked for many years – her first job was with the Social Security Administration — but had to leave the workforce several years ago when she became ill.

At the hearing, Lang, along with the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations, urged Congress to act expeditiously to protect SSDI benefits by reallocating payroll taxes between Social Security’s retirement trust fund and the disability trust fund, to equalize the solvency of the two funds, and to do so without any cuts to Social Security coverage, eligibility or benefits. This would help those who, like Darlene, depend on these benefits to maintain their stability and quality of life.

Bread for the City applauds Lang and her colleagues at NSCLC and LCAO for fighting for solvency of the Social Security Disability Trust Fund. Without this trust fund, too many of our clients could end up homeless, hungry, or worse.

*BFC’s SOAR program helps clients like Darlene every day and is fully dependent upon community support to operate. Please lend your help today by making a tax-deductible contribution.

**Click here to read Kate Lang’s full Senate testimony “The Coming Crisis: Social Security Disability Trust Fund Insolvency.” For questions about NSCLC, please contact Vanessa Barrington at 510-256-1200 or vbarrington@nsclc.org.

 

Civil Legal Assistance Saves Money and Helps People Escape Poverty

Bread for the City PIcnic
This is  a crosspost from Lonnie Powers, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. We found it on billmoyers.com. This post first appeared on TalkPoverty.org.

Sargent Shriver, President Johnson’s personal choice to lead the War on Poverty, was once asked which anti-poverty program he considered the most important.

“My favorite is Head Start because it was my idea,” he answered. “But I am proudest of Legal Services because I recognized that it had the greatest potential for changing the system under which people’s lives were being exploited.”

Legal services, also known as civil legal aid, has indeed been a potent anti-poverty tool in two ways. First, through individual case work that enables poor people to gain access to the rights and benefits from state and federal service agencies, health care providers, and schools to which they are entitled. Second, through large, class-action lawsuits and advocacy efforts that change laws and governmental policies that adversely ― and overwhelmingly ― affect poor people.

With the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty in 2014, we have been treated to numerous assessments of the effectiveness of Johnson’s (and Shriver’s) program these past 12 months. It is indisputable that tremendous progress has been made and that much work remains.

To continue progress, civil legal aid must be deployed more broadly in future efforts to combat poverty, and public resources for legal assistance must be increased greatly.

With regard to class action lawsuits, we have seen how civil legal aid has resulted in significant legal victories. In 1970, legal aid attorneys successfully argued before the US Supreme Court in Goldberg v. Kelly that state welfare departments cannot terminate benefits without first providing applicants with a fair hearing. In 1973, California Rural Legal Assistance successfully sued to stop large agricultural operators from requiring migrant farm workers to use short-handled hoes while working in fields. (The short-handled hoes forced workers to stay bent over for long periods of time; field managers required their use because if they saw workers standing up, then they knew that they were resting and not working. After these hoes were banned, back injuries among farm workers dropped by more than 30 percent.) More recently, a federal lawsuit by Greater Boston Legal Services resulted in changes in policy by the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance which had improperly denied benefits to people living with disabilities.

A look at how civil legal aid case work for individuals struggling with homelessness and/or unstable housing, as well as those who are victims of intimate partner violence, is also instructive.

Numerous programs around the country demonstrate that civil legal services can help poor people keep their housing, or negotiate exits from housing that prevent immediate evictions, and ensure a smooth transition to safe, affordable housing. A pilot program launched in 2009 by the Boston Bar Association showed conclusively that poor people fighting eviction notices in housing court in Quincy, Massachusetts, fared much better when they were represented by attorneys. Two-thirds of those with full representation kept their housing; only one-third of those who went through housing court without an attorney were able to do the same. Similar results have been found in New York City, San Francisco, and San Mateo County in California.

Meanwhile, a landmark 2003 study published in Contemporary Economic Policy showed that legal services is one of the most effective ways to help women living in poverty escape intimate partner violence. Amy Farmer and Jill Tiefenthaler, researchers at the Carnegie Mellon Census Research Data Center, were intrigued by a Department of Justice report noting that rates of domestic violence had significantly declined during the 1990s. They analyzed data from the National Crime Victimization Survey and the Census to tease out the reasons for the improvement. Their conclusion? Access to civil legal services ensured delivery of protective orders; assistance with child custody and support; and divorce and property distribution that victims needed to begin rebuilding their lives. Civil legal assistance was also critical for resolution of domestic violence-related legal disputes around immigration, housing, and public benefits.

While services provided by emergency shelters, counselors and hotlines are vital in the short-term, Farmer and Tiefenthaler wrote, services provided by civil legal aid “appear to actually present women with real, long-term alternatives to their relationships.” (It is also interesting to note that between 1994 and 2000, the period during which incidents of domestic violence declined, the availability of civil legal services for victims of domestic violence increased 245 percent — from 336 such programs to 1,441).

Despite these clear successes, many people do not understand what civil legal aid is, and surveys regularly find that most Americans erroneously believe that poor people have a right to free counsel in civil cases. Meanwhile, state and federal funding for legal assistance is well below what it needs to be.

This fall, the Boston Bar Association’s Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts released Investing in Justice, a report showing that more than 60 percent of those who are eligible for civil legal aid in Massachusetts and seek services are turned away due to lack of resources. (Full disclosure: I am a member of the task force.) The Task Force proposed that the Commonwealth’s investment in civil legal aid be increased by $30 million over the next three years to begin to address the unmet need. Currently, the state invests $15 million annually in civil legal aid.

The irony, of course, is that the civil legal aid yields a measurable ― and significant ― return on investment. Looking at work solely related to housing, public benefits and domestic violence, three independent economic consulting firms which did analyses for the Task Force found that every dollar spent on civil legal aid in eviction and foreclosure cases saved the state $2.69 on services associated with housing needs such as “emergency shelter, health care, foster care, and law enforcement.” Every dollar spent assisting qualified people to receive federal benefits brings in $5 to the state. Every dollar spent on civil legal aid related to domestic violence is offset by a dollar in medical costs averted due to fewer incidents of assault.

This summer, Philadelphia resident Tianna Gaines-Turner became the first person actually living in poverty to testify before Congressman Paul Ryan’s congressional hearings on the War on Poverty. In her strong and moving testimony she spoke of the need for increased state and federal funding to end poverty, saying, “People living in poverty ― those who were born into it, and those who are down on their luck ― want to get out of poverty. We want to create our own safety nets, so we never have to depend on government assistance again.”

Civil legal aid is a powerful tool. It helps people living in poverty build a foundation of stability so they can create a better future for themselves, their families, and our communities.

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You can learn more about the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation on their website: http://www.mlac.org/.

Bread for the City’s Legal Clinic is funded, in part, through private and public dollars awarded by the DC Bar Foundation. You too can support civil legal services for DC residents in need here.

Let’s Get Ready to Garden!

It may be too cold to garden but it’s not too cold to dream. Let’s get started on the next growing season at Bread!

Garden Open Hours Are Back!Grow for the City logo no edge
Garden open hours are BACK at the Northwest and Southeast Centers. Ask for me, Zachari, at the front desk and together we’ll look through seed catalogs, read books, and plan what the garden will look like.

Pre-season Garden Open Hours at Northwest Center
Tuesdays, 10am-1pm
1525 7th St, NW

Pre-season Garden Open Hours at Southeast Center
Thursdays, 10am-1pm
1640 Good Hope Road, SE

Gifts can also be made to the garden that will help us purchase seeds, dirt, and other garden goodness. Donate here!

rootingdc

Event: Rooting DC. February 28th. Wilson High School. 
Want to learn more about gardening? Cooking? Want to share your skills? Register for Rooting DC! It’s FREE and there will be lots of workshops, seeds, and great people!

Bread for the City Clients who need tokens to make it there can get them from me on Tuesdays (NW) and Thursdays (SE). Click here to register.

Have general questions about Bread for the City’s rooftop gardens and our sustainable agriculture projects? Email me at zcurtis@breadforthecity.org. You can also support these efforts through your giving to our rooftop gardens or City Orchard. We appreciate all your help!

 

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