On any given night there are 8,350 homeless persons in DC. The annual homeless assessment report from HUD revealed that homelessness in the District increased 14.4% in 2016, the third largest spike in the country. Also, while the number of single homeless persons might be falling, the number of children and parents experiencing homelessness is rapidly increasing.
These statistics can seem daunting, and there’s a lot of work to do. However, its people like those at District Mugs that provide me hope. Last week I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to visit this unique program that works to combat some of these problems in our city.
District Mugs launched less than a year ago. The social enterprise was started by Shreya Bhargava, Founder and Director, after she volunteered at homeless shelters in DC. She saw the misconceptions about the homeless population and also the potential, and she wanted to create a program that would empower them. Courtney D’Amico, Assistant Director, has been involved since the beginning, eager to provide skills and resources for clients to become self-sufficient. Yasser Osafat and Try Serino round out the team as art instructors whose rapport with the clients is effortless and fun.
Their clients, who are single mothers or people who are currently experiencing or have experienced homelessness, come from their partners at Street Sense. Every Thursday morning a group meets at the Church of the Epiphany to decorate coffee mugs. They guess that they have had 30 people come through since their inception.
District Mugs aims to teach their clients not only about art, but business and self-sufficiency. Their goal is to provide people the resources to be able to run a small company of their own. Along the way they are making new friends, developing a creative outlet, and increasing their monthly income.
The team paints mugs for holidays and corporate orders; however, between these special occasions they experiment with new ideas and techniques. Shreya and Courtney remember how the clients were hesitant at first to get creative. However, when I visited, I sensed no hesitation, but eagerness to test their capabilities and pride in their accomplishments. They looked to one another for suggestions and encouragement, and a couple of them were even hard at work on mugs they can sell as a set.
Mugs go for a suggested donation of $10. District Mugs keeps $1.50 to go towards purchasing more supplies, and the rest of the sale goes to the artist. This encourages them to hone their skills and make even more mugs!
The nonprofit wants to expand eventually – designing more than coffee mugs and meeting more than once a week. But for now, I would say the work they are doing is extremely impressive.
If you’re interested in purchasing a mug, you can do so at Purposeful Purchases. District Mugs also hosts pop-ups – previous ones held at Pottery Barn, Mellow Mushroom, West Elm, and Lava Barre. Be sure to follow their Instagram page to stay up to date on where they’ll be next!
Take a look below at some of the beautiful mugs these artists have created! And please join me in saluting District Mugs who is changing the lives of DC’s single mothers, homeless, and formerly homeless, one mug at a time.