By: Gary Maring, NSV Board and Luther Place founding member of NSV
In the years after the fiery devastation along 14th street following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in April 1968, Luther Place began to consider its property and location as an opportunity to help minister to the wounded of the city. It began transforming dilapidated row houses on N Street into what became a smorgasbord of faith inspired programs (Bread for the City, Deborah’s Place, Zacchaeus Medical Clinic, Sarah House, Bethany Women’s Center, etc.) to help bring healing in the community. A multi-denominational religious community led by Luther Place, with a Protestant, Jewish, and Catholic coalition (ProJeCt), gradually created what was to become known as N Street Village (NSV). A critical step along the way was Luther Place’s opening of its church doors to the homeless in the cold winter of 1976. From that event in the winter of 1976, there was no turning back. Our interfaith ministry to homeless women grew and eventually became a full continuum of services for women coming out of homelessness.
Through dedicated and persistent leadership, in December 1996 we celebrated the opening of a grand new facility at 14th and N Street NW that included Promise Place housing the continuum of programs for homeless women and Eden House, 51 apartments serving low and moderate income individuals and families. This facility along with the Luther Place Night Shelter formed the core of N Street Village until recent years when two additional programs were brought into the Village; Miriam’s House for women with HIV/AIDS and Erna’s House, permanent supportive housing for homeless women.
Now in 2016, 40 years after the opening of its first shelter in the basement of Luther Place and 20 years after opening its flagship property across 14th street from the church, NSV is continuing to “keep our promise”. We are delighted to report that NSV has dramatically expanded its services to homeless women this year as part of a citywide effort to end homelessness by 2020. In April of this year, NSV was selected to manage short-term emergency housing operations for women in downtown DC at the newly renovated Patricia Handy Place for Women (PHPW) located in Chinatown at 810 Fifth Street NW in Ward 2. The new shelter, which provides 213 beds for single women, replaces the old Federal City Shelter. My wife Margaret and I were among the first to recently volunteer to serve meals at the beautiful new Pat Handy facility and it brought back memories of serving at the opening of NSV’s first homeless shelter in the basement of our church, Luther Place, that cold winter 40 years ago when so many homeless were dying on the streets. We have come a long way in providing the full range of services needed to help so many women restore the wholeness of life but unfortunately there are still many falling through the cracks. This should not be happening in our nation’s capital. We therefore join with the Washington Interfaith Network (WIN) and other coalitions to continue to advocate for ending homelessness and providing permanent housing solutions for all.
Through advocacy of the faith community, service providers, and new city leadership; a plan is in place to end homelessness as we know in DC. The new Pat Handy Shelter is part of the District’s all-8-Wards solution to ending chronic homelessness. The other seven wards will have new short-term shelters in coming years to accommodate homeless families being relocated from the current deplorable DC General Hospital site. These shelters are part of the city’s comprehensive 5 year Strategic Plan–Homeward DC– to end chronic homelessness. The 2020 vision is for homelessness to be brief, rare and non-recurring in DC. NSV is pleased to be selected to operate the first of the city’s planned 8 new short term shelters. With this expansion, NSV has more than doubled its staff and is serving more than 1400 women and 52 families in five locations.
The interfaith example of NSV’s many years of service to homeless women and the diligent work of the Washington Interfaith Network (WIN) to successfully advocate for replacement of the shameful crowded family shelter at DC General show the power of faith in action. Although much remains to be done, we celebrate that communities of faith have been at the forefront of justice initiatives for ‘the least of these’ in our city for nearly half a century since the tragic events surrounding the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.