New group connects students, alumni with local homeless population

Media Credit: Hatchet file photo

Kris Hart, an alumnus, co-founded Round 2 Fight, an organization meant to raise awareness of homelessness in Foggy Bottom.

Two alumni have recruited about 50 volunteers to raise awareness about homelessness in Foggy Bottom.

Co-founders and alumni Kris Hart and Ashley Stephens, who created Round 2 Fight last month, said their organization stands out from other homelessness advocacy groups in D.C. because they won’t just collect donations, but will also host free events for Foggy Bottom and West End’s current and previously homeless residents.

Hart, the CEO of the organization who graduated from GW in 2011, said he and Stephens created the group to help financially struggling residents and to show them that they are valued in the community.

Round 2 Fight members plan to create guides with information for veterans and people with drug addictions, and offer free coffee and lunches at Foggy Bottom restaurants for five to six residents struggling with homelessness. The group also wants to bring struggling neighbors and students to social events, like baseball games, to connect residents with people in need.

“Friendship is sometimes more important than the blanket,” Hart said about having the social events.

Most of Round 2 Fight’s 50 volunteers are students, who he said he is recruiting by reaching out to Greek life and other organizations. He said he also plans to contact alumni when fundraising for the group, but that the co-founders and their friends are funding the organization out of their own pockets for now.

Foggy Bottom’s homeless live in encampments, on the street or move to shelters across the District. D.C. officials and neighbors have zeroed in on Foggy Bottom encampments to improve cleanliness in the neighborhood, and last month, D.C. officials dispersed a homeless encampment on Virginia Avenue.

The co-founders came up with the idea for Round 2 Fight last October and launched the website in January, Stephens, the executive director who graduated from GW in 2006, said. The name “Round 2 Fight” is an ode to a boxing ring, according to the website.

“To ensure that even though life may knock us down, everyone has someone in their corner, cheering them on for their Round 2,” the website states.

The group has raised $1,250 from friends, family and D.C. residents, some of which is being used to cover legal fees from the group trying to earn nonprofit status and the cost of putting volunteers through safety and sensitivity training, Stephens said.

Stephens said the co-founders want to raise $10,000 by the end of April through a fundraising campaign, and hope to buy storage space for donated items.

Students and alumni have already donated clothes, blankets, shoes and coats that have been distributed to financially struggling residents, according to a Feb. 28 Facebook post.

“People are incredibly excited to donate items at no cost to people in need,” Stephens said.

GW Law student Josh Yang said he is helping Stephens and Hart get the start-up legally recognized as a nonprofit organization. He said making Round 2 Fight a tax-exempt nonprofit organization is challenging because it requires paperwork to demonstrate that the organization is a charitable group, according to nonprofit assistance company Foundation Group’s website.

Yang said the organization has “overwhelming support” from students.

“We’re privileged as students who go to a great University,” he said. “We have these advantages these people don’t.”

James Bannister, an unemployed 39-year-old who was homeless for at least 15 years, said he panhandles outside Trader Joe’s for money or food and sometimes sports a sweater he got from the Round 2 Fight. Bannister said as a “D.C. fanatic,” he would enjoy going to a baseball game with the group.

Students should know when talking to people living on the streets, they do not understand what homelessness is like, he added.

“We are people,” Bannister said. “When you talk to us, it’s the timing.”

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