D.C. will permanently discontinue its contract next month with the Quality Inn, a motel on New York Ave. NE that Department of Human Services officials have used for years as a place to temporarily shelter homeless families.
Noah Abraham, a deputy administrator at the Department of Human Services who oversees the agency’s programming for homeless families, notified child welfare advocates and service providers of the change in a June 15 email.
“We will be implementing a number of strategies to close the hotel as a family shelter including, but not limited to, assisting families who are in the lease up pipe-line to move to permanent housing and transferring families to other shelters in the District’s Continuum of Care where we have vacancies,” Abraham’s email says. He added that families will receive a two-week notice before they’re relocated.
DHS stopped making new placements at the Quality Inn this spring, according to Abraham’s email, but continues to lease rooms at other nearby motels, including the Ivy City Hotel and Hotel Arboretum. The agency has used rooms in some of those motels—though not the Quality Inn—to shelter unhoused people who have been exposed to or have shown symptoms of COVID-19. The discontinuation of DHS’s contract with the Quality Inn is part of DHS’s longer-term plan to reduce its reliance on using motels as overflow shelter.
And while the District has now opened the majority of its ward-based family homeless shelters, it is unclear whether those shelters have the capacity to house the families who remain in the Quality Inn. A spokesperson for DHS tells City Paper that 59 families remain at the Quality Inn. (The motel’s total capacity, which the agency contracted out, is 116 units.) Eighteen of those families are in the final stages of signing leases through the District’s rapid re-housing program, and five will exit with a permanent supportive housing voucher.
The DHS spokesperson says the agency will “actively try to place” the 36 remaining families by its mid-July deadline. “If we can’t before then, they’ll likely be moved to the Days Inn or elsewhere in the shelter system,” the spokesperson says.
While placements at the Quality Inn and other motels were meant to serve as temporary overflow shelter for homeless families, the District has ended up renting hundreds of rooms for several years. Homeless families staying in these motels often complained of unsuitable living conditions, including unsanitary rooms and safety concerns. In February, an 11-month old homeless baby, Makenzie Anderson, was killed at the motel.
“We are eager to learn whether the [ward-based family shelter] sites will have the capacity to absorb the expected surge of family homelessness due to COVID-19. As well as what child-focused support services will be offered in these new sites to meet the developmental needs of children,” Jamila Larson, the executive director and co-founder of The Homeless Children’s Playtime Project, wrote in an emailed statement. “We have had long-standing concerns about the lack of comprehensive case management in the hotel contracts. How has this changed with the [ward-based family shelter] sites?”