The city anticipates lots of foot traffic along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE when the Coast Guard moves in and their restaurant pavilion is up and running. But right now, the primary signs of life on the speedway from Anacostia to Congress Heights—-with a wall on one side and a fence on the other—-are homeless men on their way to a 380-bed shelter, where they can either stay for a night or get into a more serious treatment program. The facility, known as 801 East, was nearly at capacity over the past winter.
The shelter, which the St. Elizabeths Master Plan characterizes as “temporary”, is slated to be demolished to make way for an office building (Catholic Charities operates it on an annually-renewed contract, so there’s no long-term commitment). While no plans are final—-it’s still several years away, after all—-the Department of Human Services wants to replace that capacity with several shelters around the city with about 100 beds each. “The vision is to move away from building large-scale shelters of 300 or more beds and focus more on finding opportunities for permanent housing placements as the best alternative for persons who are homeless,” writes spokesman Reggie Sanders. “This is the direction in which the Mayor would like to move.”
That’s an admirable goal, since the trend in recent years has been closing smaller, closer-in shelters and sending everyone to large facilities in remote locations, like 801 East and another men’s shelter on New York Avenue NE. But it’s not going to be easy to redistribute beds elsewhere—-hell hath no fury like a neighborhood with homeless services foisted upon it.
The move might also generate gripes in Hill East, which has been told that a large family shelter on the massive development site next door can’t easily be moved or broken up (along with a jail and treatment clinics). Seems like the city’s more willing to get social services out of the way of some projects than others.