We asked our neighbors in Ward 8 what they think about the Food System. Here is what they had to say:
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We asked our neighbors in Ward 8 what they think about the Food System. Here is what they had to say:
The 2010 census confirmed what many DC residents already know all too well – that soaring housing prices are pricing low-income and working families out of the District. This change disproportionately affects DC’s low-income African American population. In fact, Ward 8 – a community which Bread for the City’s Southeast Center serves – was the only Ward in the District to see a population decline between 2000 and 2010.
A person with a disability receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) in DC receives $674 per month. A person working 40 hours per week at a minimum wage job makes $1320 per month. But the Fair Market Rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Washington, DC is $1289– a figure completely out of reach for many DC residents. Meanwhile, the waiting lists for subsidized housing are tens of thousands of households long, with over 300 new applications submitted monthly.
Many low-income residents who are lucky enough to actually have affordable housing are just barely able to keep it — we often hear from clients that any unforeseen expense could potentially result in the loss of their home.
Given this crisis in our community, our Social Services team has ratcheted up their housing case management support so that we can help clients address the issues that might cause them to fall behind on rent and face eviction and homelessness.
There are resources available to people in need. The DC Emergency Assistance Fund (DCEAF), the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) and the Housing Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program (HPRP) are all government-funded programs that help pay back rent, late fees, and court fees to prevent eviction, and the latter two programs will sometimes cover the first month’s rent for new apartments. However, these funds are difficult to access, have restrictive eligibility requirements, and often times they’re simply not even available to a person in need until it’s too late.
And the funds all have their own limitations. Some cover utility assistance, while others do not. Some cover security deposits, some don’t. Beyond this web of restrictions, families often face a Catch-22 with emergency housing assistance funding: households aren’t eligible for assistance until the disconnect notice has already been sent and the eviction proceedings have begun. By that point, the window of opportunity for a family to get back on track is often closed.
Households also have to prove that they only need the assistance because of a temporary emergency, like a death in the family or an unforeseen medical expense. A household that falls behind on rent simply because of the high cost of living in D.C. is not considered eligible.
In the past year, Bread for the City has been able to assist dozens of families get back on their feet by obtaining funds through these programs while simultaneously providing them with comprehensive case management support to help them advance towards stability. For instance, Mr. J was putting himself through college and raising a son while also holding down a job. When he lost his job, he fell behind on rent while waiting for unemployment to kick in.We were able to help him secure DCEAF funding to make ends meet for the short period of time that he was without income. Weeks later, not only was he caught up on rent, but he got a new job.
However, Mr. J.’s case is rare. Stories like his are the exception – not the rule.
Thousands more households are struggling to pay their rent, and by the time they are eligible for emergency assistance, they may be in over their heads. With the District facing even more cuts to affordable housing and rental assistance programs in this budget season, more and more DC residents will be forced out of their homes – and perhaps even out of the city.
Contributed by Emily Cadik, Bread for the City Policy Fellow.
This week, in promotion of our Holiday Helpings campaign, the People’s District published five stories told by people from Bread for the City’s community. Today’s is a familiar voice to this blog: Bread for the City community resources coordinator and all-around superstar Sherita Evans. Read Sherita’s story below:
“Working for Bread, I have come to learn that the same thing that broke down the neighborhood is what can bring us back together. We are all in need, but we can learn to help each other and help ourselves block-by-block. We know that problems in this city are never limited to just one block. One block’s problems can spread to another block and then another, and soon the whole city feels it. People need to recognize that, or at least think about how poverty in my neighborhood in SE impacts those who live uptown.
“I live in this community and see people I went to school with at the supermarket not able to pay for their groceries. I used to work in telecommunications for seven years and had to write-up my employees for work issues that turned out to be the result of lack of affordable child care or health care. Come on, these are basic human rights. No one should be allowed to starve or get in trouble at work because they are too poor to have someone take care of their kids.
“I wanted to work to change these things, so I came to Bread as a volunteer and now work in a dual role as the intake and community resources coordinator. When people come in, I sit with them and tell them about the resources available to them. I help them get social services. I tell them that while Whole Foods or Harris Teeter may not advertise accepting food stamps, you can still go there and shop like everyone else.
“The other part of what I do is going out into the community to let people know about Bread. You would be surprised how many people I meet who think that all we do is literally give bread out to the city. Other people may think that we only do legal work in NW. I tell them that we pride ourselves on being a non-traditional service provider across this city.
“Working here, I see how the lines of poverty have changed. It is no longer only the traditional African-American family coming in for help. Now, I see a real diversity of people coming through our doors. Everyone is in need of help. Everyone has a cousin or aunt or grandma in need. I also deal with a lot of veterans. I am not talking about Vietnam or Korea, but Iraq. If you are an E Class 1, your pay was never meant to support you and a family of four. I work to help those families get services.
“I have had a lot of jobs, but this is the only one that gives me instant gratification. You know that job that everyone seeks out of college, the one where you are going to make a difference and make an imprint in the world, I get to do that every day. A mother will come in and say, ‘I just paid my rent and I can’t feed my children. How am I going to feed my babies?’ If I can help her with food, she will be able to give her children the best part of her. It is a wonderful feeling to be a little part of that.
“So, if we really want to end this, let’s be neighborly again all of the time. Let’s not just wait for the holidays to help. I want someone to be neighborly in March when all of the Holiday Helpings are long gone. If you don’t have money, teach someone a skill or lead by example. Stop reading about the statistics in the Washington Post and hearing what they say in City Council and come and do something about it.”
Many thanks to People’s District for this great series!. Celebrate this holiday season with us by making a gift to Holiday Helpings today! Just $29 will provide a healthful, plentiful holiday meal to a family of four.
> On Monday, December 14, we kicked off a new cooking class at Bread For the City’s Southeast Office. The Northwest cooking class has been well underway, and now we’ve taken the maiden voyage to start one up on Good Hope Road. We had a grand time making delicious, healthy, and easy Mediterranean food. Sharon Feuer Gruber, our Nutrition Initiative Adviser, taught us how to make Greek salad, Syrian rice and lentil mujadara, and carrots in orange sauce.
Before we started cooking, we talked a bit about whole grain versus white products. In the process of turning whole grains to white grains, a vast majority of the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals are lost. For instance, 75 percent of the iron in wheat is in the germ and bran, both of which are removed in the process of making whole grains into “white” products. And this is why Sharon made sure that the rice we cooked was whole grain, so we can get what our body needs. A common complaint about cooking brown rice is that it takes too long, but Sharon suggested that you can submerge the rice in water the night or morning before you plan to cook it, and by the time you’re ready to start dinner, it’ll only take 20 minutes.
Throughout the class, we all learned a number of helpful tidbits about various foods, such as grating a little lemon zest onto your salad, which could be good for the liver. We were reminded not to peel off the cucumber skin as we chop it up for the salad, because the skin is full of nutrients and has fiber. Even each of the spices and garnishes we added to the carrots had an important health component:cinnamon, cumin, and parsley.
As we sat down to the meal, we devoured the delicious food and had enough to share with some staff at the Southeast Office, enjoying a delicious family dinner. Sharon reminded us to listen to when we feel satisfied, not full. It’s all too easy to go over the threshold that our body needs, especially when the food is so good. Needless to say, we all had seconds on the carrots and salad, which disappeared quite quickly!
Each of the participants was delighted with the meal. “The carrots would be a good holiday dish. I can take them to a potluck,” mentioned Linda H. Diane added, “I like to learn about good ways to fix foods I can eat that are good for me, because I eat a lot of foods that aren’t so good.”
We’re hopeful that the workshop can be a learning experience for all as we continue to improve our eating habits. Every time I participate, I surely learn an abundance of new tips! We look forward to continuing the program as we begin to become stronger advocates for healthy living within the communities we serve.
Here’s the ingredient list if you’re interested in trying these delicious recipes for yourself!
-Lemon (juice squeezed for dressing, grated zest/peel for garnish)
-Olive oil (dressing)
-Brown rice (twice as much rice as lentils)
Carrots in Orange Sauce
-Fresh parsley (chopped in at the end for flavor/garnish)
As Jody Tick of the Capital Area Food Bank just wrote at the DC Food For All, Wards 7 and 8 suffer from the lack of supermarkets that offer healthy and affordable food. To see the disparity ourselves, we toured through two very different locations: the new Giant in the Congress Heights neighborhood of Ward 8 and the Anacostia Warehouse Supermarket (right across the street from Bread for the City’s Southeast Office).
Walking into the Giant, which recently opened in December of 2007, the smell of fresh produce wafted past my nose, and I was struck by the colorful and varied assortment of fruits and vegetables. The shelves were fully stocked—with a variety of meats, grains, cooking amenities, and so forth. Healthy options, such as whole wheat tortillas and bread, were placed in prominent locations throughout the store. The building was large enough that we were able to navigate the store with little congestion just a little before rush hour. I was impressed by what I saw, and believe that the relatively new supermarket is an encouraging improvement for the residents nearby.
But this one store can’t serve such a broad geographic area and dense population. There are still not enough supermarkets for the residents of River East. And when we popped our heads into the Anacostia Warehouse Supermarket just a block west of Bread For the City’s Southeast Office, we were surprised at the difference.
At first glance, one would think little of the store from its exterior. A nice-looking sign, but the very bleak and barred storefront blended into the street and did little to induce people to stop and shop. Once in the store, the first items that came into eyesight—once they properly adjusted to the dark—were stacks of alcoholic beverages. We turned full circle and witnessed cases of Cup of Noodles, Twinkies, chips, pork rinds, and other foods that that scream: “Diabetes! High cholesterol! Malnutrition!” Much of the food is both costly and a glut of carbohydrates and fats.
Behind the boxes of snacks and sweets, in the back recesses of the store, we found a selection of fresh meats and produce, both of which were modest. There was a variety, but the prices were a little high and some items looked a little mealy. A butcher was in the back, inhabiting a slightly grimy space, while the vegetables lined the farthest wall of the store.
Whereas in Giant my eyes were met with the rainbow of ripe foods and an array of healthy foods, the Anacostia Warehouse Supermarket did little to promote its fresh offerings.
As noted in And Now, Anacostia, the very presence of the store is a step in the right direction. However, a rearrangement of the interior and perhaps a renovation of the exterior would make this store more inviting and help to target the truly nutritious foods that our community needs.
Let’s take a closer look at shopping in River East from the eyes of the local community. I surveyed a few people coming to Bread for emergency groceries, and the resounding response to the grocery query suggests that there is, in fact, a lot of demand for more and better stores.
Many mentioned shopping at the Tiger Mart, Murray’s, Safeway and Giant, but rarely at local corner stores. One woman stated, “The corner stores? That’s highway robbery.” Instead, as another woman stated “I have to walk ten blocks to get to Safeway. Bread there is 89 cents, and in the corner store it’s $1.99.”
But even the larger stores aren’t satisfactory in Anacostia. Terms such as “obnoxious” and “ridiculous” were used. Another gentleman noted that it’s 4 or 5 miles to get to the nearest supermarket from his house and sometimes the stores aren’t stocked with what he needs. Or, as two women voiced, the meat doesn’t last very long. One customer stated, “it’s not fair in the lower income neighborhoods.”
And this is why people often end up at our door. We can help with a short-term supplement with our bag of 3 days worth of groceries. The Healthy Corner Store Program is another way to begin the transition within stores to provide healthier options. But there is much more to be done in order to create a more equitable community food system in River East.
>Free on Tuesday night? Looking to do something besides watching your most recent Netflix selection? Volunteer at the Spirit of Health event with Bread for the City!
The Black Women’s Health Imperative in partnership with Bread for the City, and the Women’s Missionary Societies of the AME and AME Zion churches is hosting an exciting health and wellness event for Black Women in Southeast DC entitled “Spirit of Health: Black Women Inspired and Empowered.” The event will take place Tuesday, June 23, 2009, 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Matthews Memorial Baptist Church located at 2616 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave, SE in Washington, DC.
To volunteer, email Melissa at email@example.com
The event will include screenings, a healthy family meal, a talk show style educational session on living and being well, pampering sessions, fitness demonstrations, health information, community resources, and fun activities for children.
In light of our recent blog post on the health of Black women in DC, events like this are important to educate and inform communities about healthful living. Your volunteering at the event will make the end goal of the Spirit of Health, or “increasing physical activity, making healthy food choices, and embracing emotional wellness,” more of a reality for Black women in DC.
>DC is fortunate to have a large blogging community. (Shaw, where Bread for the City NW is located, has even been named one of the top “bloggiest neighborhoods in the country.”) This blog scene is pretty neighborhood-centric, with an active interest in things like real estate, local commerce, crime, traffic lights, city history, and food. (Lots about food.) Unsurprisingly, given the main industry around here, DC’s blogosphere is often very sophisticated about the effects of policy and urban planning on everyday life.
Many of the neighborhood bloggers are young professionals who first moved to their area not too long before launching their blogs. Blogs like 14th & You, Renew Shaw, and And Now, Anacostia are monitoring the rapid change in their neighborhoods, cheerleading the good and watchdogging the bad. They are characteristically supportive of development, but they also hold a genuine appreciation for the historic character of a neighborhood.
In the past few weeks, we invited a bunch of these local bloggers to come take a tour of our facilities and discuss community issues. Their insight is of great value to us as we continue to deliberate upon the role that Beyond Bread can play within the emergent local blogosphere.
After all, Bread for the City helps and advocates for people who, by and large, don’t have regular access to the internet, let alone exposure to blogs. In many cases, our clients’ livelihoods are potentially threatened with further marginalization by the very forces of development that local boosters are inclined to support.
And yet, throughout the meetings, we found ample common ground. The bloggers all shared a deep and thoughtful support of diversity – not just as a platitude, but specifically in the form of mixed-income development that preserves affordable housing. Likewise in expanding local access to fresh and affordable food. In important ways, we are natural partners in the effort to improve the quality of life in the community as a whole.
One thing that came up repeatedly in discussion was the value of more eyes on the machinery of the city – at budget hearings, council meetings, public agencies, etc. Here at Bread for the City, we get a close inside look at changes that affect thousands of people in our community, but that might fall out of sight of even the most obsessive internet busybody. As we all spoke with these citizen journalists about the power dynamics in the city, the conversational vibe went beyond neighborly and into a new exciting phase of the collaborative.
After all, someone’s gotta do it. Without falling too deep into the “Death of Newspapers” discussion, suffice it to say that we’re witnessing a swift collapse of conventional local news reporting. And to be sure, a neighborhood blogger doesn’t have access to the breadth of resources and institutional heft that a newspaper provides. But a committed citizen can sometimes have more ability to push closer to the truth, and more commitment to keep on a story as it develops.
The resulting information may only ever reach a small handful of people who care about it, as opposed to the masses skimming the paper over coffee and during commutes. But passionate, organized small groups are usually what make large-scale change happen.
In picking up where traditional media fell off, will the hyperlocal blogosphere be able to restore and even improve the civic balance? It’s not yet clear. But the exciting thing is: it’s up to us.
>We’re pleased to see that the City Council has unanimously voted to institute a fee on paper and plastic bags in grocery stores. (A recent report by the DC Department of Environment suggests that this measure could eliminate up to 47% of the trash in the Anacostia river tributaries, and 21% from the river’s main stem; PDF here.)
We’ve supported this bill here, as Councilmember Tommy Wells pledged to us that the revenue generated by this measure will be used, in part, to provide an ongoing supply of reusable bags that service agencies like Bread for the City can distribute to our clients.
Many thanks to Councilmember Wells, and the Trash Free Anacostia coalition, for pushing this smart policy through. We look forward to working with the City to get these reusable bags out into circulation as quickly and widely as possible!
Marbury Plaza Gains Support
Tenants Seek Abatement Assistance
Rats. Mold. Leaks. Fires. It might seem the list of problems at Marbury Plaza, 2300 Good Hope Road SE, couldn’t get worse. But tenants also face financial and legal complications.
The Lightstone Group owns the 672-unit apartment complex as well as many commercial properties around the country. Recently, according to New York Times and Wall Street Journal reports, the company defaulted on several loans. At least four properties are now in receivership, and the future of others is in doubt.
Meanwhile, more than 50 Marbury Plaza tenants are participating in a rent strike. The strike was launched in October of 2008, after previous efforts failed to achieve needed repairs in rental units and common areas. Several individual tenants were sued for non-payment of rent, and the nonprofit Bread for the City is representing some of those sued. Vytas Vergeer, legal clinic director, says mediation will be the first goal at an upcoming status hearing.
Tenants can file counterclaims against landlords in such cases, Vergeer adds, but a change of ownership complicates matters. In the event of foreclosure, the bank would be responsible for bringing apartments and common areas up to code, he says, but foreclosure could limit tenants’ ability to seek restitution from current owners.
In a separate effort, the District’s attorney general, Peter Nickles, wrote last month to the owner/manager threatening suit unless “the property is maintained up to code as required by law.”
In addition, tenants are meeting with the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs officials and the District’s Tenant Advocate to explore the possibility of assistance from the city’s emergency abatement fund.
When asked if he’d like to add anything else to the story, Bread for the City’s Vytas V. Vergeer said, “Yeah, my middle initial.” And so it has been done.