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Realistically, where in current D.C. could the successors to the city’s homeless shelter and jail go—that seems the major block to any redevelopment of the potentially great Hill East waterfront. I haven’t heard a single proposal from any councilmember or the mayor.
This one’s a doozy. Everyone wants better facilities for the homeless, but no one wants those facilities in his or her backyard. Hill East residents would love to move the shelter and the jail in order to develop the waterfront area—the first two parcels of which are now slated for development—but there’s nowhere obvious to put them. Neighborhood advocates say they’d be OK with a smaller shelter there, but the concentration of hundreds upon hundreds of homeless residents in a facility that was intended to be temporary isn’t doing anyone any favors.
Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham, who chairs the Human Services Committee, doesn’t see a solution in sight. “Do we have another place where we can put 280 families and 500 or 600 people?” he asks. “No, we don’t.” Graham would like to see D.C.’s homeless residents moved into permanent supportive housing, but he acknowledges that would cost a lot of money.
In the interim, Graham says, the D.C. General shelter is better than the alternative. “No one’s happy with D.C. General,” he says. “It’s far short of ideal, but it’s better than stairwells, bus stations, Union Station, couch to couch, parks.”
As for the jail, it could potentially be part of a new public safety campus at Blue Plains that’s under discussion. But Graham recently paid a visit to the jail, and it’s adding a new inmate processing center. “That doesn’t suggest any movement away,” he says.