A group of nearly three dozen people gathered early Monday morning outside the home of Mayor Muriel Bowser to protest the demolition of D.C. General, the city’s largest family homeless shelter.
The protestors, many of whom work as advocates for the homeless but were not affiliated with any organizations in an official capacity, asked the mayor over a speaker system to delay the demolition of D.C. General until all its residents have moved out of the shelter. With a stack of cardboard boxes decorated like the dilapidated complex, a faux sledgehammer, and handfuls of flour “dust,” the protestors––a handful of whom wore hardhats and reflective vests––staged a fake demolition of the shelter on the sidewalk in front of Bowser’s home.
“You say demo, we say hell no!” the protestors chanted, along with “lead in our water, lead in our air, Mayor Bowser, do you care?” and “Amazon can wait; our kids’ lives are at stake.”
Demolishing the campus is “a clear and dangerous way of telling [homeless] people they’re not welcome” in the city, one protestor told City Paper.
About 30 minutes into the demonstration, two Metropolitan Police Department vehicles pulled up onto the street, effectively herding the crowd together. A handful of neighbors walked onto their porches during the peak of the protestors’ chanting.
The closing of D.C. General has been plagued by public consternation over myriad issues, including concern that local officials have expedited its demolition to make way for development behemoth Donatelli as well as Amazon, which is considering a parcel of land in Hill East for its East Coast headquarters. Advocates have also questioned the health and safety implications of demolishing parts of the campus while families still live in the shelter. (The city plans to begin demolition of parts of the campus in August.)
City Paper reported in June that two replacement homeless shelters, intended to partially offset the influx of families into the city’s shelter system when D.C. General closes, faced contracting and construction issues. Laura Zeilinger, Director of the Department of Human Services, said this summer that the agency has negotiated contracts for additional motel rooms should the city need additional shelter space in the event those shelters don’t open on time.
The protest came about a week after dozens of advocacy and social justice organizations signed onto a public letter asking Bowser to delay the demolition of D.C. General until the roughly 150 families living there have found another place to stay. Earlier this month, Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White floated emergency legislation to delay the shelter’s closure, but modified the bill shortly before the Council voted on it.