So Others Might Eat’s Conway Center on Benning Road NE gathers under one roof many vital services for people experiencing homelessness, from job training to housing. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)
In May, a glittering new building opened across from the Benning Road Metro station. With its soaring atrium and its panels of glass and concrete, 4430 Benning Rd. NE could be home to a law firm or a think tank. But it’s actually home to something a little different.
It’s called the Conway Center, and it’s the latest initiative from So Others Might Eat, a charity partner in The Washington Post Helping Hand.
SOME was founded in 1970 with a straightforward “give a man a fish” mission. Its volunteers dispensed sandwiches to hungry and homeless people in Washington. SOME quickly adopted a more “teach a man to fish” approach. Over the years, its scope has grown. The organization has added health clinics, substance abuse treatment programs, housing and employment training.
“SOME serves a population with immense needs,” said Anna Christ, the nonprofit’s director of corporate and foundation relations. “It’s a population that’s often been impacted by years of being on the streets, having untreated medical conditions and years of chronic unemployment. That really informs a lot of how these services were designed.”
Since 1974, SOME has operated out of a set of buildings on either side of O Street NW. The mixed-use Conway Center brings the many offerings of SOME under one roof.
“It’s not always easy to engage in those services,” Christ said. “You want to make it as low-barrier as you can.”
At the Conway Center, those services start with a patient navigator who helps clients determine a path forward. That means identifying and addressing the challenges that keep some people without a home.
Start with substance abuse or poor health. Addiction treatment programs are part of the mix at the Conway Center. In March, Unity Health Care will open clinics on two floors at the Conway Center. There will be an on-site pharmacy.
Classrooms for SOME’s Center for Employment training are there, too. Students can take classes to earn credentials as medical assistants and in the building trades, including certification for HVAC workers.
There is also affordable housing, with 152 single adult units and 30 apartments for families. Residents pay 30 percent of their income in rent, whether that is wages from jobs or benefits they receive.
This permanent supportive housing comes with case management to ensure clients are making progress. There is also an after-school program in which volunteer mentors work with kids who might need extra academic help.
“It’s critical that these services go beyond helping folks in crisis but are truly transformative,” Christ said. “They work to build that foundation that folks really need for long-term success.”
Polly Donaldson, director of the District’s Department of Housing and Community Development, was among those who spoke at the Conway Center’s dedication in May. Said Donaldson: “This is an example of housing and services in a way that I think is truly what our future affordable housing across the District needs to be. . . . We have to create a mix of housing across our city — affordable housing — but we have to make sure we’re taking care of our most vulnerable first.”
The Conway Center cost $90 million. About a tenth of that was donated by Joanne and William E. Conway Jr. The center is named in honor of Joanne. Bill Conway, a co-founder of the Carlyle Group, was the chair of SOME’s Building Hope capital campaign.
At the dedication, Bill Conway said: “Twenty-five or 30 years ago, the poor and the homeless became visible to me. Of course, I always knew they were there, but I chose not to see them. It’s easier when they’re invisible. You don’t have to deal with them, talk to them, help them. But once they became visible, I found I couldn’t just walk by.”
You don’t have to walk by, either. You might not have $1 million to donate to SOME, but your gift can help the people who are turning their lives around at the Conway Center.
This is the last column I will write about So Others Might Eat during this year’s Helping Hand campaign. To make a tax-deductible donation, visit posthelpinghand. com and click on “Donate.” To give by mail, make a check payable to “So Others Might Eat” and send it to SOME, Attn: Helping Hand, 71 O St. NW, Washington, DC 20001.
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