Songs, snow­cones and self­less­ness

Cen­tral Union Mis­sion hosts a block party for neigh­bor­hood res­i­dents

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WEATHER - BY EL­IZ­A­BETH KOH el­iz­a­beth.koh@wash­post.com

Michael Epps lost his home last win­ter when his par­ents died and the house was sold. A long­time temp worker — wash­ing dishes and do­ing kitchen work — Epps bounced around a few shel­ters in the Dis­trict: “Lots of drugs, peo­ple try­ing to steal your clothes, ev­ery­thing,” he said of the places he stayed.

Then Epps heard about Cen­tral Union Mis­sion, a Chris­tian non­profit shel­ter a few blocks from Union Sta­tion. Three months ago, “they wel­comed me in,” he said.

The shel­ter opened its doors a lit­tle wider Satur­day for a neigh­bor­hood “block party” with in­flat­able bounce houses and a per­form­ing choir, wel­com­ing par­ents and chil­dren to the old Gales School for an af­ter­noon of en­ter­tain­ment.

Among the at­ten­dees was the 90-mem­ber Pre­ston­wood Stu­dent Wor­ship Choir from Pros­per, Tex., 40miles from Dal­las. In lime green shirts screen-printed with an il­lus­tra­tion of the Capi­tol, the high school­ers served more than 550 hot dogs and count­less snow­cones to at­ten­dees be­fore mount­ing a makeshift stage to per­form pop songs and gospel mu­sic.

“I’ve been look­ing for­ward to this all sum­mer,” said choir mem­ber Emily Car­ney, 15.

Dozens of chil­dren scrib­bled their names and “Je­sus loves you” in pas­tel chalk on the pave­ment out­side the shel­ter. They skipped rope and hula-hooped in be­tween eat­ing snow­cones churned out from a bright blue ma­chine.

A hand­ful of res­i­dents, sit­ting in the shade on the front steps, also ven­tured out into the sun for hot dogs and chips. Though many of the adults stand­ing in line for food hailed from other shel­ters, at­ten­dees praised Cen­tral Union Mis­sion’s med­i­cal care and re­li­gious ser­vices.

“I’m try­ing to reestab­lish my­self,” said Jonathan Car­ring­ton, 31, who re­turned to the city last month only to have an in­tern­ship fall through. Newly home­less, he said he came to the shel­ter regularly for food, ges­tur­ing to his half-eaten hot dog with mus­tard.

Deb­o­rah Cham­bers, Cen­tral Union Mis­sion’s di­rec­tor of strate­gic part­ner­ships, stressed the need for wel­com­ing places for those who are home­less.

“When they come to the shel­ter, they have ex­hausted all other op­tions,” she said. “Just be­ing able to sit down and have a cup of cof­fee and watch the news . . . and know that peo­ple are go­ing to be able to treat you right means a lot.”

“Just be­cause you’re home­less doesn’t mean you’re hope­less,” said Wil­liam Spence, a shel­ter chap­lain. “There’s hope at Cen­tral Union Mis­sion.”

Epps, sit­ting un­der a tent and watch­ing chil­dren and teenagers run around in the sun, said he was look­ing for­ward to fin­ish­ing his six-month pro­gram at Cen­tral Union Mis­sion. His old temp agency, he said, has of­fered to help him get another job when he’s done.

“I’m al­ready on file,” he said proudly.

JABIN BOTS­FORD/THE WASHINGTON POST

Satur­day’s event at Cen­tral Union­Mis­sion in­cluded a bounce house. The non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion be­gan serv­ing the poor in 1884.

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