By Hannah Morgan
A large Teddy Roosevelt walked across the National Mall Saturday morning in a shirt promoting helping the homeless. He was joined by Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and hundreds of other Washingtonians.
Saturday, November 19, 2011 was the last annual Walk for the Homeless sponsored by Fannie Mae. After 24 years of raising funds for homelessness in the district and around the nation, the mortgage giant, placed in conservatorship in 2008 as the result of the subprime mortgage crisis, announced it would stop sponsoring the large annual walk. From now on, Fannie Mae has announced it will focus on fundraising through smaller, community-based walks around the country. These mini-walks have emerged as an important source of funding, annually drawing tens of thousands of participants and raising millions.Still, local homeless organizations, struggling to help rising numbers of needy people, say they will be sorry to lose the Walk for the Homeless on the National Mall.
Spirits were high, though, as marchers arrived from throughout the region for the last big Fannie Mae event. Gathered by the Smithsonian Metro stop on the mall, sipping coffee and making walking plans, a group of young college graduates affiliated with St. Matthews Cathedral spoke of the importance of being there.
“As young adults with our Catholic faith, we are called to care for those people who don’t have homes in our community,” said Sarah Yaklic, one of the young adult organizers. “We are called to use our faith to change the world.”
A few yards away, gathered at meeting place under signs bearing the letters D through F, a man held a sign that advertised Friendship Place, a homeless outreach center in Northwest Washington. Between small community walks and the big walk on Saturday, Friendship Place claimed over 3,000 volunteers walked for them this fall, said Executive Director Jean-Michel Giraud.
The money raised truly helps the homeless, added Friendship Place spokeswoman Emily Fagerholm.
“The fundraising helps us expand our programs, create more jobs, place more people into housing and get veterans off the street. [The walk] brings our whole community together in a great way,” she said.
Approximately 50 people from outside of the District registered to do virtual walks in home communities as far away as Hawaii, said Geoffrey Millard, who directs the Homeless Veterans Initiative at Friendship Place.
Contingents of students, families, volunteers from organizations such as Thrive DC and N Street Village, walked together, singing, chatting, chanting and tweeting along the way. Currently homeless and formerly homeless people lent their support and their stories along the way.
Alan Bankas, who used to be homeless in D.C., joined in the walk for the first time. His goal was to finish the walk, he said, but also promote Friendship Place, which was able to find him housing within two weeks almost two years ago. “I’m happy, blessed to be here,” he said, “I’m a speaker for the homeless. People don’t understand that just because you have a lot of money, you can become homeless for any number of reasons,” he said.
The walk looped around the Tidal Basin and up the mall, and walkers were cheered on by local D.C. school cheerleading squads and Street Sense vendors. David Denny was one of them.
“Everybody’s here and everybody’s down for the cause, to eradicate homelessness in our communities,” said Denny. “Everybody’s just lively, and I think they are serious about what they are doing.”