Success Stories: Chapter 16 – Calvary Women’s Services
In 1983, homelessness was increasing throughout the country. To combat the issue, Calvary Women’s Services was founded in Washington, D.C. Its mission – to empower women to transform their lives through housing, health, education, and employment programs.
The program initially opened as a temporary overnight shelter for women in the basement of Calvary Baptist Church. Since then, the shelter has grown into a comprehensive service organization. In November 2012, Calvary completed a large-scale expansion project, purchasing and renovating a new building in Washington, D.C.’s Ward 8 and in 2019, Calvary launched Reach Up, a new program providing transitional and short-term subsidized housing.
Women experiencing homelessness face a variety of needs. They often have experienced violence and trauma as well as untreated physical and mental health challenges. The release of the 2017 Women’s Needs Assessment, prepared by the D.C. Interagency Council on Homelessness, detailed the experiences of homeless women in the District. This report revealed widespread experiences of violence and trauma and a significant need for housing that provides stability and mental health care and support. According to the report, more than 75 percent of women who were homeless reported historical experiences of violence. For most of the women, experiences of violence or trauma and their experiences of homelessness are inextricably linked. This report was instrumental in Calvary’s decision to launch Reach Up.
Calvary Women’s Services also implemented the Holistic Health Program to address the unique health challenges facing the women. The Holistic Health Program provides a range of health services for women in Reach Up. It educates women on the physical and mental health issues they are facing, provides on-going support, and empowers women to advocate for themselves as they work towards their personal health goals. Program services include life skills education (fitness, nutrition, women’s health, etc.), individual and group therapy, medical assessment and group health counseling, and daily addiction recovery meetings and support. Recently, Calvary Women’s Services hired a licensed nurse practitioner to provide weekly health education and medical counseling to its clients.
Through housing and wraparound support services, each woman in Calvary’s programs identifies and builds on her strengths enabling her to meet her goals for safe housing, good health, and financial independence. In the last year, more than 70 percent of the clients successfully ended their homelessness and moved into their own homes.
Calvary Women’s Services has a corps of 350 volunteers who are vital to maintaining the daily operations of its programs. In the last year, volunteers committed to the physical and emotional care of their patients provided time and talent equivalent to four full-time employees. Volunteer activities include leading classes through LEAP (Life Skills, Education and Arts Program), supporting Step Up DC (job placement program), supporting staff with overnight program supervision, and preparing and serving meals.
“As a nurse practitioner in women’s health, I listen to the residents at Calvary to understand their health concerns. These might have to do with medications they are taking, medical problems they are experiencing, or just information they may need to make the best possible decisions about their own health. To me, the listening part of this is key. These women may have come from a place in their lives before Calvary where there was no one to listen to them in that way or to craft solutions together.” – Gail Chinoy, Nurse Practitioner
“The pandemic forced us to provide services in a new way, but that also opened additional opportunities for empowerment for the women at Calvary. Providing services through Zoom opened the door for women to feel more comfortable engaging. Women sometimes felt more open in communicating when they could control turning their camera on and deciding how to show themselves. Calvary is focused on empowering women to know that they have the strength and knowledge to move forward.” – Fatima Bah, Director of Programs
“The Qlarant Foundation is pleased to support the efforts of Calvary Women’s Services. This organization provides comprehensive and life-saving services to homeless women in Washington, DC.” – Dominic Szwaja, PA, Chair, Qlarant Foundation