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Dupont Circle Neighbors Join Others to Improve Life for the Homeless

By Ben Lasky*

Images accompanying this news story can be viewed in the current issue PDF

On November 20, the Fannie Mae Help the Homeless Walkathon will take place on the National Mall. One of the programs raising money for the homeless that day will be Charlie’s Place, which operates out of St. Margaret’s Church at 1830 Conn. Ave. The walk raises 40 percent of the annual budget for Charlie’s Place. Anyone who wishes to participate can go to charliesplacedc.org or helpthehomelessdc.org.

Charlie’s Place is well-known for its meal program that began feeding the homeless in 1990. The program was started by, and later named after, the late Charles Gilchrist, a former pastor at St. Margaret’s Church on Connecticut Avenue across from the Universal Buildings, and also served as Montgomery County executive.

When the program began, volunteers simply served cereal twice a week to people who were sleeping in the street. What it has evolved into is a program that today serves four meals a week and 30,000 to the homeless over the past two years. According to the organization’s website, there are about 13,000 homeless persons in the District and that “Charlie’s Place will continue to identify homeless individuals in need of services in the surrounding neighborhoods of Dupont Circle, Adams-Morgan, Mount Pleasant, and Columbia Heights.”

For some, like Charlie’s Place Program Director Matt Lang, the opportunity to help those in need makes the job a fulfilling one. “Growing up in DC, I saw homelessness and I saw how it affects not only the homeless, but every citizen in DC. And when I got out of college I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I remembered the homeless and decided to throw my hat in that ring,” said Lang.

One of the biggest issues in the homeless community according to Charlie’s Place Program Manager Tom Goss is the issue of mental health. “It’s getting hard for us to ever solve the problem of homelessness without first tackling the issue of mental health,” he said. “The biggest problem is getting people the right diagnosis and the medication that they need.”

Another big problem facing the homeless community this time of year is the weather. According to Lang, many of the city’s emergency shelters have shut down recently, which means less space for the homeless.

Homelessness may never fully disappear, but programs such as Charlie’s Place are doing all they can to provide the homeless with all that they need. According to Goss, Charlie’s Place has set up 34 of its clients with housing and 70 with employment.

But, as the organization’s staff and volunteers understand, their work is far from over. As Lang says, “We’re supposed to be the most politically powerful city in the world, and [yet] we have 13,000 homeless individuals. I think it’s a travesty.”

*Ben Lasky, a contributing writer for The InTowner, is also a staff writer for The American University’s student newspaper, The Eagle, while he pursues his degree in communications and journalism at AU.

Copyright (c) 2010 InTowner Publishing Corp. & Ben Lasky. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part, including for commercial purposes, without permission is prohibited.