Last night, District officials held meetings in each ward to discuss the seven facilities proposed by the Bowser administration to replace D.C. General, the city’s decrepit family homelessness shelter.
The mayor’s office is expected to transmit legislation this week to the D.C. Council that would allow the plan to move forward. If that occurs, construction could start on the seven facilities next year, with completion dates staggered through the first nine months of 2018. Thursday’s community meetings were the first in several expected to take place on the shelter plan.
Read more about the plan here and about the meetings below.
As part of its push to close D.C. General and replace it with several smaller facilities throughout the city, officials last night held a meeting in Ward 2—despite the fact that no family shelter will be located in the ward.
The Patricia Handy Center, a new women’s shelter located at 810 5th St. NW, is set to open in March. The center will to replace the John Young and Open Door facilities at the Federal City Shelter complex at 2nd and D streets NW. Virtually all attendees of the meeting voiced support for the shelter, ranging from Ward 2 residents to leaders of the Dupont Circle and Foggy Bottom neighborhood associations to advocates for the homeless.
When asked why a family facility is not proposed for Ward 2, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice Kevin Donahue said the city intends to place families in residential neighborhoods. “When we look at families and individuals together, we know that we want families to be in residential settings, and we know that for individuals, very often, not always but often, individuals have a desire to be closer to downtown,” he said. —Quinn Myers
The crowd at a Nebraska Avenue NW church in wealthy Ward 3 was mostly supportive of the shelter, with many of the questions focusing on whether the shelter at 2619 Wisconsin Ave. NW would burden transportation or local schools—and how residents could welcome the families. Department of Human Services chief Laura Zeilinger said the reaction made her proud to be a Ward 3 resident, especially after being told during the planning process that the tony ward wouldn’t take a shelter.
As the meeting went on, though, opponents of the shelter became more vocal. One woman asked to see a list of the other sites in the ward that were considered; another asked why Friendship Heights or Chevy Chase couldn’t have the “pleasure” of hosting the shelter.
Another woman asked Zeilinger when DHS would stop women at the shelter “from having children when they can’t afford them.”
“It’s not within our authority to regulate peoples’ reproductive rights,” Zeilinger said to applause. —Will Sommer
No residents at the Ward 4 meeting spoke out against the idea of building a shelter in the ward, but many had questions about the chosen site, a vacant building at 5505 5th St. NW that’s on the city’s list of blighted properties.
The Bowser administration touted the chance to replace an eyesore off Kennedy Street NW, but some at the meeting, held at Paul Public Charter School in Brightwood, were skeptical. “I have this bad feeling that you’re trying to kill two birds with one stone,” said Nancy Roth, an ANC 4D commissioner. “We do have a problem with a blighted, vacant building, but it doesn’t mean that’s the best place for this kind of facility,” she added, to applause from the crowd.
Residents with concerns about the site asked the city to disclose which other sites were considered. One urged the city to own the property instead of leasing: “We have too many buildings in D.C. that we lease, and this is just a moneymaker for a developer.” Others said they were worried about sheltering families so close to a high-crime area.
Though no one who spoke identified themselves as homeless, some raised concerns on their behalf. Many clapped in support of a resident who said, “I don’t feel that the dormitory style is appropriate for children and families… I don’t think it inspires dignity.” Several said the Bowser administration was unrealistic in its expectation that families would find permanent housing within 90 days, considering the city’s shortage of affordable housing.
Mayor Muriel Bowser won’t find any resistance , however, from her protege, Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd. “I support it fully,” Todd said in remarks at the beginning of the meeting. Asked after the meeting ended whether residents raised any new concerns for him, Todd said they did not. “I think Ward 4 residents are ready to do our part.” —Zach Rausnitz
Though all members of the D.C. Council are on board with the mayor’s plan to close D.C. General, only Ward 5’s Kenyan McDuffie has publicly opposed the proposed location in his jurisdiction, which would put a new shelter in a largely industrial area in Langdon. At last night’s meeting at the New Canaan Baptist Church, McDuffie, along with a packed room of about 100 people, voiced their concerns about the family homeless shelter, scheduled be built at 2266 25th Place NE in early 2017.
With men’s shelters on Adams Place, Lincoln Road, and New York Avenue, the Virginia Williams family intake center on Rhode Island Avenue, and a So Others Might Eat facility off North Capitol Street, some Ward 5 residents say that their ward already has its fair share of homeless shelters. Others raised concerns that the proposed facility, which would house up to 50 families, is too close to the other shelters. “The saturation of services in any one ward, let alone a few neighborhoods, is unfair to the communities that surround those facilities,” McDuffie said in a statement.
But even those who were in favor of building another homeless shelter in the ward were concerned about the industrial nature of the proposed location, which they said is unsuitable for families and children. “If you were to dream up the worst location to put families with young children, this would be it,” Langdon resident Rhys Gerholdt said in a statement to City Paper.
About midway through yesterday’s meeting, Bowser showed up to answer constituent questions. Michelle Bundy, a Brentwood resident, challenged the mayor to look for other locations “in affluent areas where it would really feel like a home environment for the people as opposed to just an industrial zone.” City Administrator Rashad Young, who gave the presentation last night, said that D.C. had considered all options for suitable locations in Ward 5, but found just one that could meet all the requirements for a family shelter.
Still, many residents felt that their ward has being dumped on. “Promise us that other wards outside of 5, 7, and 8, that their feet are held up to the fire,” Bundy said, “and that they actually do end up housing people.” —Matt Cohen
Mayor Muriel Bowser kicked off her multi-ward PR push in Ward 6 at Friendship Baptist Church and immediately ran into resistance. After making a short case for the closing of D.C. General to the overflow crowd assembled in the church’s basement, ANC representative Stacy Cloyd stepped up to the podium.
“I first learned about this plan at 6 o’clock Monday night,” Cloyd said, noting that she wanted to listen to “valid concerns” about placement before taking a position on it. “The shelter’s going to place a lot of demands on this neighborhood, and we already have a lot of demands.”
And while you couldn’t describe the room as full of NIMBYs, many longtime residents raised a recurring set of concerns about where Southwest fit into the city’s plans.
“We already have [public housing complexes] Greenleaf [and] Syphax, and we have a halfway house, and now we’re welcoming a homeless shelter. We’re really doing our part,” said Josh, who described himself as a 17-year resident of the neighborhood. “My question is, what’s Georgetown doing? What’s Dupont Circle doing? What’s Kalorama doing? How many shelters and housing projects are they getting? What [is the city] doing with HUD to help out the many projects that we already have here?”
The limited notice—two days—didn’t win many friends either. “I’ve been here 38 years, and you didn’t even have the courtesy to come by and knock on my door,” said another resident. —Steve Cavendish
Ward 7’s D.C. General Shelter replacement meeting started promising. The audience on the packed second floor of the Capitol View Library cheered alongside Deputy Mayor for Greater Economic Opportunity Courtney Snowden and Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander as they publicly announced the closure of D.C. General, the infamous, aging building that serves as home for 280 D.C. families.
“[Many of] our families are in D.C. General right now, so I’m glad we’re closing it,” Alexander said to applause. “We all have to share the burden of housing the homeless.”
Ward 7’s building, an estimated $10 million project slated to open in September 2018 at a now-vacant, city-held lot at 5004 D St. SE, will have 34 units that accommodate 50 families. It’s among the smallest of the seven replacement shelters planned.
But after Snowden ran through a 35-minute slideshow overview of the project, residents got rowdy, and some ANC commissioners stood to speak over Snowden and Alexander during an hour-and-a-half-long question period. The most resounding resounding concern? That the location for Ward 7’s shelter was poorly planned.
One resident whose home faces the shelter’s lot said that, because of the its proximity to public housing properties, it would create a “corridor of poverty.” ANC 7F02 Commissioner Eboni Rose-Thompson told Snowden she was concerned that the location wouldn’t give residents without a vehicle adequate access to grocery stores and daycare centers.
“I wish it had come to the community before [the location] was selected,” said Benjamin Thomas Sr., a 60-year resident of Ward 7. “It’s the most crime-ridden part of the city.”
Snowden seemed to resent the implication that residents of the shelters would be subjected to (or participate in) drug or sex crimes.
“I know we make decisions based on our perception of something, but I always like to inject some facts into the conversation,” Snowden said. “Violent crime is down 10 percent, property crime is down 20 percent, overall crime is down 24 percent, and all of those stats are up-to-date.” (That data reflects the city as a whole and not Ward 7 specifically.) She added that the building will have 24-hour security.
Many were also unhappy with the decisions to not give each of the building’s units its own restroom—“the point is to make these better than what we got now!” a resident shouted—as well as to not separate play areas for babies and older children. —Morgan Baskin
When Deputy Mayor Brian Kenner asked those gathered in the basement of Matthews Memorial Baptist Church what they thought when he said “D.C. General,” many replied “hospital.”
Kenner asked again, and the answer was resounding: “Relisha Rudd.”
Rudd was eight years old when she disappeared from the D.C. General homeless shelter in 2014, apparently kidnapped by a shelter janitor. She has not been seen since March of that year. The Bowser administration is now moving to close the shelter and replace it with facilities in seven wards, including one in Ward 8.
“Those are the kind of situations we seek to eliminate by closing D.C. General,” Kenner said of Rudd. At Thursday’s meeting on the proposed replacement facility at 6th and Chesapeake streets SE, Kenner emphasized that all of the District’s wards (except Ward 2) would be sharing the responsibility of hosting a family shelter.
“This is not about concentrating family homelessness,” said Kenner, who leads the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.
While replacing D.C. General was the focus of the meeting, Ward 8 residents presented Kenner with a host of other concerns, mainly about the District’s affordable housing crisis.
“What is the administration going to do, starting today, on those issues that are already in the community?” ANC 8D Chair Olivia Henderson asked, referring to issues like the ward’s many abandoned properties.
On the topic of the replacement shelter, residents expressed concerns about property values (Kenner said the D.C. government doesn’t anticipate that the new shelters will have negative effect on that), the shared bathrooms in the facility, and its proposed location.
One resident who lives nearby the proposed facility said she had bullet holes in her walls and was once carjacked. Another man questioned why the shelter couldn’t be located on another city-owned property in an area of Ward 8 with more amenities. He pointed to the east campus of St. Elizabeths, where the District plans to help build a practice facility for the Wizards.
“You have no amenities at 6th and Chesapeake,” he said. “There’s nothing over there.” —Sarah Anne Hughes
Photos by Darrow Montgomery