Bread for the City distributes groceries to more than 6,500 people each month between its center in Shaw and its smaller, already existing outpost in Anacostia. George Jones, the organization’s chief executive, said he anticipates that the new Anacostia location, set to open in 2020, will serve at least 2,000 additional people each month.
Jones said the need is, in part, fueled by gentrification that has intensified the gap between wealthy and poor residents. A recent report by the D.C. Chamber of Commerce highlighted the chasm. Since 2009, it says, the city has lost more than 4,000 families with yearly incomes below $35,000, while gaining more than 10,000 families with incomes above $200,000 over the same span.
“I think with the influx of new residents — the District has grown to over 700,000 people now — the disparities are even more stark,” Jones said.
Stephen Glaude, president of the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development, noted that the divide has long existed, especially in communities of color. East of the Anacostia River, where more than 90 percent of residents are black, the poverty rate is nearly double the citywide average of 17.9 percent, and the median income is nearly half the citywide $72,935, according to census data from 2016.
“By the time we know there’s a disparity, it has already existed, it has been ignored, it has been studied and it has been reported,” Glaude said. “And the whole time all those things are happening, generally the disparities are worsening.”
Bread for the City aims to ensure that some of the District’s most vulnerable residents aren’t pushed over the brink because of their lack of resources. The Shaw center includes a medical clinic, complete with pediatrics, gynecology and a dentist, plus a staff of social workers and lawyers who guide residents through the complicated bureaucracies of landlord-tenant court and social benefits. The group’s Anacostia location features a center that distributed seasonally appropriate clothing to almost 3,000 people in the past year.
Some D.C. residents, including 58-year-old Leonard Edwards of Northwest, say that without the services of Bread for the City, they’d probably be on the street — or worse.
A former Marine, Edwards said he first sought help from Bread for the City in 2003, after he lost his $80,000-a-year job at a law firm and went through a divorce. In addition to providing him with a few days’ worth of groceries every month, the agency also employed him through a part-time internship, paying a couple hundred dollars monthly.
When his arthritis worsened a few years later, Bread for the City’s medical staff arranged a free double-hip replacement. The social services staff guided him through a six-year ordeal as he tried to secure his $1,300-per-month disability check from the government, and when he was “tired of fighting, and tired of making ends meet,” the behavioral-health staff identified and treated his depression.
“That was a big deal for me,” he said. “That, to me, was worth more than gold.”
The vast majority of the organization’s beneficiaries make less than $10,000 annually.
The city and U.S. government have many social programs that provide critical services to low-
income residents. But sometimes, Jones says, bureaucracy can hinder access for the city’s most vulnerable residents. For example, requiring residents to recertify throughout the year can be difficult for those who struggle with transportation or cannot take time off work.
“We’re talking about systems that unintentionally create hardships for people of color because of the way they’re structured,” Jones said. “They’re structured around the premise that people have greater bandwidth than they do.”
Bread for the City works to make its services accessible. The agency never denies services to its clients, and at the new Anacostia location, it plans to poll residents to determine which operating hours will work best for their schedules, and which services might provide the most benefit.
D.C. Council member Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1), who heads the Human Services Committee, acknowledged some of the barriers government can create and said the city has taken steps to address them. For instance, recent legislation would allow residents to recertify for the D.C. Healthcare Alliance, which provides medical assistance to low-income residents, over the phone instead of having to visit an office. Without funding, though, the mandate has yet to go into effect, she said.
And she cited a racial equity training run by Bread for the City that she participated in, which she says made her more conscious of how her upbringing in a largely white community might affect her legislative decisions.
“You can’t do the job of representing the most diverse ward in the District of Columbia without spending time understanding other people’s experiences and how that impacts their lives,” she said.