The Central Union Mission can breath a small sigh of relief: Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6C is fine with its plans to operate a transitional men’s shelter at the barely-standing Gales School at 65 Massachusetts Avenue NW. That’s a change from the last community where they tried to relocate their activities from 14th and R Streets. Last night’s vote was conditioned on the Mission leadership meeting with concerned residents and businessowners, and if large issues arise, the ANC could hold another meeting to reconsider before the Council is scheduled to vote on the disposition of the building next month. But with most issues dealt with, the non-profit is likely in the clear.
So, how will the shelter operate? A few vital stats: There will be capacity for 150 men, who will need to be inside the shelter by 6:00 p.m.—there will be a fence around the property to help keep them there—and leave at 7:30 a.m. During the day, they’ll also be welcome at the shelter, with food usually available. “We don’t like anybody to go hungry anytime,” Executive Director David Treadwell told the ANC. “The idea is to draw people into the buidling, not push people out of the building.”
Though the men are welcome, it’s still a transitional shelter. Able-bodied men will only be able to stay for 30-day stints, unless they still can’t find other housing, in which case they may alternate between 15 days in, and 15 days out. If the shelter is full, staff will help men find other beds in the shelter system, and sometimes transport them there.
And then there’s the Jesus part. Central Union Mission is a religious organization, which is why the ACLU challenged its right to occupy the Gales School in the first place. There is a long-term “spiritual transformation program” that helps men deal with anger and drugs. Men will not be required to enroll in the program to stay in the shelter, but if they do, it’s intense.
“It is a Christian-based program, butwe never complel anyone to express faith,” Treadwell says. “Many of the men choose to go that route. When they do that, they do it all day.”
Whatever you think about offering religious services in a homeless shelter, tomorrow’s closure of La Casa is a reminder that the beds can’t come online soon enough.