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Put Me Out of Business

For the last 22 years, I have had the privilege of serving as CEO at Bread for the City, a nonprofit that provides food, clothing, medical care, and legal and social assistance to DC residents living with low-income. In that time, our annual budget has grown from $1 million to over $10 million, and we employ a staff of 100 and assist a growing number of District residents with health care, legal advice, clothing and other basic necessities. Plus, every day our advocacy team and community organizers work with residents living on low-incomes to develop their own power to determine the future of their communities.

Each year, my staff and I talk to each other, our supporters, and policy makers about how we can do this work better. While that’s an important question, I also believe we fail to ask a question more important: how do we get to a point where we don’t have to do the work at all?

I love the work we do. The countless success stories over the four decades we’ve been in existence are priceless.

But I would love, more than anything, to live in a world where Bread for the City doesn’t have to exist.

I’m challenging my staff, our supporters, and DC policy makers: Put me out of business.

You can’t support the mission of Bread for the City without working towards a world where Bread for the City is no longer necessary.

If you ask me what a world without Bread for the City looks like, I’d challenge you to take a drive around the District, with its multi billion-dollar budget and housing that none of the people we serve can afford. You’ll find examples of that world all around. But the District invests appropriate resources in some places, but not others.

This world isn’t a fantasy, but it will never be a scalable reality without a radical change in the way we think about poverty and policy. The tough task of eradicating poverty requires the same innovative thinking, energy, and aggressiveness we bring to luring billion-dollar corporations to the District. It’s the taking of existing resources – something we already do when we give tax breaks and land at dirt-cheap prices to corporations and developers – and shifting those resources to ensure that residents have access to services in an equitable fashion.

But this is a world with more than access. This is a world with equity. This is what a world-class city would do. We don’t do that in DC.

We do the least in DC. Equity is doing the most. If you’re shooting for equity, you go for the most. That’s what policy makers get wrong. Too often, they look for the least they can do. Take affordable housing, for example. The current budget allocates just $100 million towards affordable housing. However, the Fair Budget Coalition, an organization of which Bread for the City is a member, calculates that ending homelessness requires a $400 million a year investment.

People will tell you ending poverty is a budget-buster. Yet we found $82 million to give away to developers and hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks to offer billion-dollar corporations.

We think about increasing resources as a drain on a system, but when we do the least it ends up compounding our problems. We say we have a vested interest in ending homelessness and expanding equity. Our actions say differently: we do something, but we don’t do something effective and impactful.

A world where Bread for the City continues indefinitely is a world where the collective “we” is okay with poverty, systemic racism, and homelessness. I no longer want to live in that world. So I challenge all of you: put me out of business. It won’t happen tomorrow. But we can start today.

Want to join the fight? Learn more about Bread for the City’s advocacy work, make a donation, or sign up to volunteer today. 

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