Back in 1994, City Paper asked whether it was “time to put [DC General] out of its misery.” It was a hospital then, but in the early aughts became a homeless shelter for families—eventually, the city’s largest, which at its peak housed over 1,000 people.
But the shelter quickly became notorious for often failing some of the District’s most vulnerable residents. It was beset by financial troubles, rodent and mold infestations, and accounts of sexual abuse. In 2014, 8-year-old DC General resident Relisha Rudd went missing, believed to have been abducted by a shelter employee. She quickly became a symbol for all that was wrong with the shelter.
On Monday—which was also Rudd’s 13th birthday, though she has not been found and her case remains unsolved—the last few families moved out of DC General, according to data collected by the group that managed the shelter. The next day, Mayor Muriel Bowser closed the site permanently, threading metal chains around its doors for good measure.
Of the 170 families living in DC General in July, 93 of those received rapid rehousing subsidies, DHS data show, while 33 others were transferred to shelters. Nine now live in transitional housing, while nine others have been terminated.
The closure was a hard-fought political battle, one whose result was not a foregone conclusion. In 2016, Bowser reportedly called D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson “a fucking liar” for publicly promising that the shelter could close by the end of 2018. But by January of this year, she recommitted to closing the shelter, announcing that it would happen by the fall.
The intervening months saw rapid change. In April, deconstruction began on parts of the campus (but halted in July after an outcry following reports indicating the presence of lead on some buildings). In May, the Department of Human Services stopped placing new families in DC General. Over the summer, Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White led a push to delay closure of the shelter until smaller replacement sites were open in Wards 4, 7, and 8, though he eventually scrapped that effort.
Advocates for the homeless have criticized this pace. At a March hearing on the city’s plans for closing DC General, Bread for the City’s Aja Taylor accused the Bowser administration of “manufactur[ing] a sense of urgency” in its mission to close the shelter, making way for Amazon to build its second headquarters in the District. And City Paper reported in June that the contractor selected to build two DC General replacement shelters in Wards 7 and 8 had never before built the kind of modules the city hired them to construct, delaying their delivery and putting pressure on contractors to work nearly round-the-clock for a fall delivery.
Given these and other obstacles, the shelter’s closure seemed worthy of celebration for Bowser’s administration and many across the city who have long wanted to see its doors close. But aside from a minute-long remark onsite and a Twitter thread announcing the closure, the event flew largely under the radar—Bowser’s office didn’t even send out a press release. A spokesperson for DHS directed City Paper‘s questions about this to the mayor’s office, which has not yet responded to a request for comment. (We’ll update this post if they do.)
“This shelter is too big, too old and rundown, and too remote to help our most vulnerable families,” Bowser wrote on Twitter. “In a city as prosperous as ours, we can do better.”