Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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In a letter sent to At-Large Councilmember David Grosso on Wednesday, Department of Human Services Director Laura Zeilinger went on the record with the most detailed information to date about where the department plans on re-homing D.C. General residents when the shelter closes later this year. 

While DHS gave Grosso an exhaustive list of how many families live in each of the motels, hotels, and apartment buildings contracted by D.C. to serve as overflow shelter for homeless families (over 400), the agency doesn’t seem to have decided where it will place current residents of D.C. General, the city’s largest homeless shelter.

“I cannot say definitively how many families who reside at D.C. General Family Shelter today will receive a Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) voucher,” Zeilinger wrote. “The vast majority of the 219 families at DC General today, who exit to permanent housing, will do so with a Rapid Rehousing subsidy.” Families with more intense needs, she added, will qualify for PSH or Targeted Affordable Housing, whose subsidies “will be assigned through the Coordinated Entry process.” (PSH and TAH are programs that connect residents to longer-term housing and more robust case management; eligibility criteria are more strict.)

That is, most families will likely receive rapid rehousing subsidies—which often expire after one year, frequently forcing families back into homelessness and into working their way through the services system from square one. 

“I think the numbers they’ve presented show us just how fluid the situation is, and how difficult it is to predict what’s going to happen,” Grosso said on the phone Thursday afternoon.

He also thinks that Zeilinger’s letter, along with the lack of specific information onlookers got about D.C. General’s closure from a string of agency-based performance oversight hearings last month, indicates the city should re-think its closure timeline. “What I’d ask is for them to analyze is whether it’s better for people to [be placed] in overflow motel shelters than it is for them to go to D.C. General.”

At D.C. General, the city has “more wraparound services, the laundry room is brand new, they have a playground, for what it is, and the Playtime Project is already well-established,” he says. “My fear is that because [the city] made a promise to close D.C. General by a certain time, we might not be acting in the most thoughtful way we can. I’d do my best to get other replacement shelters open sooner, get wraparound services established in them, use D.C. General as backup for now, and try to avoid using hotels and motels at all cost.”

Only three Ward-based replacement shelters are scheduled to open by October of this year. Legal challenges to sites in Wards 3 and 5 are expected to stall the progress of their construction. The last shelter, in Ward 1, won’t open until 2020.