It’s as predictable as the sunrise, from Petworth to Congress Heights to Truxton Circle to Hill East: A social services organization tries to locate a facility in a neighborhood, the neighbors feel blindsided, and the battle is joined. This time, the drama is about to play out again in the heart of Anacostia’s business district, where Calvary Women’s Services is redeveloping a 14,000-square-foot building as a women’s shelter.
The 28-year-old organization bought the property, in a former Elks Lodge right across from the Department of Housing and Community Development on Good Hope Road SE, for $950,000 in December. It’s a $3 million project, and after landing a $175,000 gift from the Cafritz Foundation, organizers are hoping to raise another $750,000 by the end of the year to make the numbers work. When it’s operational, the facility will house 50 women at night and serve meals to 100 per day, along with providing other supportive services.
Despite the fact that it’s been in the works for seven months now, lots of people in the area found out about it just last week, in an email blast from Council Chairman Kwame Brown. Today, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Greta Fuller fired off a letter to the relevant agency directors complaining that the area was already overburdened with homeless services and drug treatment programs; there are four others within a few blocks of Calvary’s site.
“It’s a very frustrating process, because the community wants so desperately to move forward, and when services like this are on every block in our neighborhood, it makes it difficult to promote the neighborhood,” says Charles Wilson, president of the Historic Anacostia Block Association. “You can tell that some people have been maneuvering behind the scenes to move this process forward…you just get a sense that politicians have made it possible for them to make the transition to Good Hope Road.”
Wilson’s got a point, of course. While not much has been willing to rent space there yet, that’s theoretically a prime retail or restaurant location, and it’s hard to convince a sit-down restaurant to put their sidewalk cafe right next to a homeless shelter (whether or not the aversion is well-founded). And of course, Calvary did itself no favors by getting this far along in the process without starting a discussion with community groups; that’s only asking for hostility.
Still, there’s also no reason why a well-managed shelter has to be a blight on the community. Many are fairly innocuous. And there’s clearly a need for these kinds of services, somewhere. Calvary’s executive director Kris Thompson was on vacation and unable to comment, but staff are apparently supposed to defend their program at ANC 8A’s meeting tomorrow.
UPDATE, August 2: Here’s a response to complaints about the use of the term “NIMBY” on this post.