Church to end homelessness
BY SHAUN LANE
Eight years ago, Alan Banks was living the American dream: He had a solid job with the federal government, a wife, two healthy children and a home in a southern Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C. But ultimately, his life long battle with chronic severe depression cost him everything.
Banks found himself wandering the streets of Washington, often finding respite on a bench at the Washington National Mall. For six years, his family was unable to locate him.
"I stayed out of trouble with the police and minded my business on the streets, so it would have been hard for someone to track me down," Banks said. "Depression took my life over. I was suicidal."
One night, about two years ago, while he was asleep on a street, someone left a business card by his head. That's when he began to piece his life back together.
"It was from an organization that helped to get homeless people off of the street," he said. "I had nothing to lose at that point so I took advantage of it. I eventually ended up where I am now."
Banks lives in supportive housing on Franklin Street, in Northeast Washington, near Catholic University. There, Banks has developed a strong relationship with his case manager, he gets treatment at a VA hospital for his depression and he has reunited with his two children – his 29-year old son and his 27-year old daughter.
"The biggest blessing of all is having my children back in my life," Banks said. "I still get down when I think about how my life used to be. But being able to get permanent, supportive housing made all the difference."
North Capital Commons
The Baltimore-Washington Conference and its partner, Be the Change, are working to build supportive housing for the homeless so more people like Alan Banks have a chance at recapturing a piece of their life that was once lost.
Thanks to donations from several foundations and local church members, there are already two projects under development: 123-unit North Capital Commons, on North Capitol NE, between K and L streets and 81-unit Calvary Place, site of Calvary UMC in the Columbia Heights neighborhood.
Be The Change has received its 501(c)3 designation in the District of Columbia, making it eligible for tax deductible donations. a second nonprofit has been established in Baltimore, also called Be the Change, to develop supportive housing at two locations, one in the city and one just outside of Baltimore.
Rosanne Haggerty, the president of Community Solutions, whose mission is to strengthen communities to end homelessness, said the proven success of developing and operating permanent supportive housing and bringing a wide range of community stakeholders together to create and share cost-effective solutions that support a community's most vulnerable neighbors are the key to ending homelessness. Community Solutions is a spinoff of Common Ground, which ended street homelessness in the Times Square.
"We've proven time and time again that investing in effective housing strategies costs taxpayers far less than maintaining the status quo, where isolated, often sick people shuttle between the streets and shelters, hospitals and jails," Haggerty said.
More than 200 laity and clergy of the Baltimore-Washington Conference have traveled to New York to review supportive housing homeless buildings. Participants have included members of the Conference Board of Trustees, Council on Finance and Administration, Discipleship Council and Board of Global Ministries.
Supportive housing provides supportive services on site for the homeless. The goal is to help the homeless address social, medical and emotional needs through case workers and medical care. The homeless live in their own efficiency, approximately 350 square feet, with their own bathroom, kitchenette and sleeping area. The New York projects that Conference officials are modeling have a 94 percent success rate of homeless not returning to the streets and most getting full and part time jobs and paying rent. The projects in the Baltimore-Washington Conference will focus on homeless veterans.
Currently in D.C., about 6,000 people a night experience homelessness, one of the highest rates in the nation. In Baltimore there are 5,000. These statistics do not go unrecognized by Banks.
"I know what the right kind of housing can do for a homeless person," he said. "It gives a person hope. It helps to restore their dignity. It makes them healthy again.
"Whatever people can do to support building more permanent supportive housing, they should do. You aren't just giving people a home. You're giving them new life."
Find out more about Be the Change here.
Several leaders of the Baltimore-Washington Conference serve on the nonprofit board of Be the Change D.C. They include: Bishop John Schol, president; Rev. Dean Snyder, vice president; Paul Eichelberger, treasurer; Rev. David Argo, secretary; Cynthia Walker; Rev. Evan Young and Dana Jones.
The Baltimore Be the Change Board includes: the Rev. Dr. Karin Walker, president; Kevin Gralley, vice president; Darlyn McCrae, secretary; Jay Blackman, treasurer; Neil Moores, Rev. Emora Brannan, Rev. Wanda Duckett, Rev. Tony Hunt, Rev. Amy McCullough, Rev. Jay DeMent, Jerry Hazelwood, and Paul Derstine.