As Cold Weather Hits, More Help for Unsheltered
By November 11, 2020 0 377•
In December, many Georgetowners are thankful for the warmth of their homes. But the cold winds of the season usher in the threat of hypothermia for the area’s unsheltered residents, many of whom are new to the streets in the wake of the pandemic.
Fortunately, Georgetown Ministry Center, a multidenominational charitable organization dedicated to “ending homelessness one person at a time,” is responding with new leadership and expanded programs to meet the needs of those in danger.
Following the death of an elderly homeless man named Freddie — who died of exposure in an icy phone booth on M Street — Georgetown Ministry Center was founded in 1987 by the Georgetown Clergy Association and Georgetown University. Today, with 13 member congregations and five full-time staff members, on a daily basis the organization serves between 50 and 100 persons experiencing homelessness at its Grace Episcopal Church location at 1041 Wisconsin Ave. NW.
In addition to its winter shelter program, the center offers medical and psychiatric services, employment referrals, housing and shelter assistance, mailing services, drug and alcohol treatment and referrals, phone charging, handicapped-accessible indoor bathrooms and outdoor gathering spaces.
At the most recent Zoom meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E, chair Rick Murphy, referring to Georgetown Ministry Center as “one of our most important neighborhood agencies,” introduced its new executive director, Kelly Andreae. Appointed just two weeks earlier, Andreae has held leadership positions with United Way’s Emergency Food and Shelter Program and local providers of homeless services.
“Right now, it’s exciting,” Andreae told the commissioners as she outlined the center’s plans. “We are launching, as part of Hypothermia Season, our GMC Extends Program, which will extend our hours of operation.”
Daytime services normally run from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., providing breakfast and lunch seven days a week. With extended hours to address the cold weather, however, evening operating times with dinner services will now be added from 4:30 to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Andreae told The Georgetowner that the center will also be providing “warming kits for folks and additional access points to services to make sure everyone is staying warm and safe this winter.” The warming kits include backpacks, hand warmers, blankets, hats, gloves, thermal underwear, water and other essentials. Clients will also be given gift cards “so they can access grocery stores, fast food restaurants and pharmacies.”
The center’s street outreach program sends staffers out into the community to support unhoused people seeking to stay warm and find temporary relief from the cold. “We’re going out, getting to know people, letting them know where we are, so they can access our services,” Andreae said. “With love and compassion and respect, this builds trust over time.” She added that the center aims to “meet people where they are,” describing its relationships with area businesses and local police as “great” for facilitating interventions and support.
Andreae highlighted Georgetown Ministry Center’s new partnership with Feed the Fight DC “to provide meals through restaurant partners in D.C. and in Georgetown to serve hot, delicious, yummy and nutritious meals for the guests at GMC.” Founded during the early weeks of the pandemic by Georgetown consultant Elena Tompkins, Feed the Fight had been providing meals to frontline health workers. However, with the need for this service diminishing over time, the group switched to assisting the Ministry Center with its mission to nourish those experiencing homelessness.
“Pivot is the name of the game!!” announced the group on Instagram (@feedthefightdc) on Oct. 6. “Starting today, we are going to be providing lunch [for] homeless folks who are part of the Georgetown Ministry Center.”
With the pandemic, the center recently pivoted its own service model to ensure safe social distancing. Windows were retrofitted with plexiglass partitions so that walk-up clients can be safely provided with hand sanitizer, personal protective equipment, bagged meals, coffee, water, toiletries, health pamphlets and other critical resources.
Under D.C.’s Phase Two reopening, the center has not been able to hold larger indoor gatherings or reopen its computer lab. However, it has been able to bring back some needed indoor services with safety measures in place. “We’re really glad to be opened back up for showers and laundry, because that’s an important part of hygiene necessary to help keep these folks experiencing homelessness safe,” said Andreae.
To raise funds for its expanded programs, Georgetown Ministry Center launched the Spirit of Georgetown 2020 Campaign. A promotional video for the campaign features Billy Martin, owner of Martin’s Tavern, appealing for community support: “As a business owner here in Georgetown, I strongly care for our community. My family has been here for four generations. So it’s important to us to see that we keep our community strong, keep it safe and just make it a good place for everybody to come. Especially now with COVID, it’s important for us to wrap our hands around GMC to help them help us.”
“You never know when it’s going to happen to you until it happens,” says Kevin, a thankful client. “When you’re out here [on the streets] you kind of lose a sense of yourself. When you wake up, the first thing you want to do is take a shower, but [out here] you don’t have that luxury. And if it wasn’t for places like GMC, somewhere you can go and get showers and socks, whatever you need, you know, it kind of makes you feel better at the end of the day. I just thank God for places like this and people who care to contribute … to help other people who really need it.”