Relationship Lesson: In Midst of Move Nonprofit Must Remake Case to Neighborhood

August 1, 2011; Source: Washington City Paper | Timing is everything—even in the world of nonprofits. A recent piece in the Washington City Paper presents a case study of how the expansion of a single nonprofit can be perceived as clashing with the development of an urban neighborhood. WCP presents this local story in recognizable terms: “A social services organization tries to locate a facility in a neighborhood, the neighbors feel blindsided, and the battle is joined.” In this case, however, the neighborhood, Anacostia, has been one of Washington’s most under-resourced areas, and is now experiencing a period of rapid growth—and the nonprofit, Calvary Women’s Services, has a 28-year history serving the city’s homeless women. 

According to WCP, Calvary Women’s Shelter purchased the 14,000-square-foot, former Elks Lodge in downtown Anacostia, across the street from the Department of Housing and Community Development, for $950,000 last December. As part of the process to secure the deal, Calvary got a $175,000 grant from the Cafritz Foundation, and has begun a campaign to raise another $750,000 by the end of this year. The organization has established the goal of providing shelter for 50 women a night, food for 100 women a day, and various other support services in the new facility. 

Although Calvary purchased the property seven months ago, WCP notes that many Anacostia residents and business leaders just learned about the deal last week. Charles Wilson, president of the Historic Anacostia Block Association and member of the opposing group, said,“It’s a very frustrating process, because the community wants so desperately to move forward, and when services like this are on every block in our neighborhood, it makes it difficult to promote the neighborhood.” 

Over the past few days, the debate has grown to include calls for the former lodge to be a mixed-use building rather than just a residential facility. Writing in Greater Greater Washington, business-owner Veronica Davis adds her view that many residents in the area are concerned that the “overabundance” of social service facilities without any retail space will threaten the area’s recent economic growth. The debate and additional public meetings on this issue continue.—Anne Eigeman