Credit: Morgan Baskin

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Mayor Muriel Bowser cut the ribbon today on a homeless shelter in Ward 4, one of seven small family shelters that will open across the city by the summer of 2020. The shelters are intended to partially replace the capacity lost when the city finally closes D.C. General, a former hospital that since became the city’s largest family homeless shelter.

The 45-unit shelter sits at 5505 5th St. NW and was “designed for flexibility,” says Department of General Services chief Greer Johnson Gillis.

Its ground floor contains a medical room, staff offices, a business room with a supply of computers for residents, and a few bedrooms.

Floors two through five are strictly residential. Each floor has a common room, laundry closet, and small food prep area with a microwave, as well as two sets of rooms that open into adjacent sleeping spaces to accommodate larger families. Residents will receive key cards that give them access to the floor with their bedroom, plus a ground-level dining area and the first floor common areas.

There are 18 family bathrooms across the building, with each designated to serve two families. (Advocates have long protested this design choice, arguing that it reduces the dignity of the shelter.) Nine families will have private, en-suite bathrooms, with preference given to larger families and those with medical conditions that necessitate privacy, per Department of Human Services Director Laura Zeilinger.

Credit: Morgan Baskin

Zeilinger estimates that while the average length of stay for families at D.C. General was about 180 days, DHS has set a target length of 90-day stays for families at the smaller shelters. “We know we have work to do to get there,” Zeilinger says, but adds that the progress the city has made in reducing family homelessness, coupled with the smaller and less “chaotic” nature of the Ward-based shelters, will better facilitate that goal.

The agency announced earlier this month that it selected The National Center for Children and Families as the service provider for this shelter.

DGS Director Gillis says that while the initial budget for this shelter was $14 million, the agency is still tabulating the final cost.

Two other homeless shelters, in Wards 7 and 8, are scheduled to open later this year after facing contracting issues that slowed the progress of their development. At a breakfast meeting between members of Bowser’s administration and the D.C. Council on Tuesday morning, officials projected that the ribbon cutting for each shelter would take place Oct. 9 and Nov. 9, respectively. The first families will move in to the Ward 4 shelter early next month

A spokesperson for DGS said in an email statement that shelters in Ward 7 and 8 “are nearly completed with major construction items such as green roofs, elevators, and HVAC systems in place. The remaining items include curbs, gutters, landscaping, and masonry.”

During a media tour of the Ward 4 shelter Wednesday morning, Gillis and Zeilinger told reporters that a DC General resident walked through the space this morning and expressed delight at the quality. “This is why we’re doing this,” Gillis said. Zeilinger nodded behind her.

Credit: Morgan Baskin