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The emergency family shelter at D.C. General is back at full capacity. In March, the District had faced massive overcrowding at the shelter in which mothers and children slept on hallway floors and in a cafeteria. At one point, the shelter reached 200 families. According to internal e-mails, the Department of Human Services (DHS) began moving families into housing units after it faced the threat of a lawsuit by the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless.
The District moved dozens of families out of D.C. General. Now, it appears the city had run out of options for the families residing at the abandoned hospital. On May 31, the shelter had 134 families and 246 children. The listed capacity was set at 135 families. The residents occupy three floors.
“After the push to house families back in March which thankfully and wonderfully resulted in a number of families securing a permanent place to live, unfortunately those efforts have slowed down,” saysPatricia Mullahy Fugere, the legal clinic’s executive director. “And there are fewer permanent and transitional housing resources available now. We’re not seeing people moving through the shelter system.”
Another thing that isn’t moving through the system: cool air. Aaron McCormick and his young son have been stuck at D.C. General for months. He says that the air conditioning system doesn’t work on the fifth floor where his family resides. “So myself and 30 other families [are] in extreme heat,” he says. “Industrial fans not doing anything.” He adds that his son has gotten nose bleeds due to the heat. He also describes flea problems, trash left in piles, and still indifferent case management.
“We got flees galore,” McCormick says.
But the big problem is the likelihood that McCormick and a majority of his fellow residents will be staying at D.C. General for the summer. He says that residents were informed at a recent meeting that it would take another three to four months for DHS to find transitional or subsidized housing for each family.
DHS’ Fred Swan denies that any such timetable had been given to D.C. General residents. “As circumstances and eligibility for programs are different for each family, as a general rule we do not give specific time frames for placement,” Swan writes in an e-mail to City Desk. “Time frames for placement are contingent upon each family’s circumstances, resources and eligibility for programs. Additionally, placement is also contingent upon availability of placements (i.e., family turnover in programs), overall demand and the efforts made by families to work on goals in their case/service plan.”
Swan goes on to state that the demand for shelter beds remain high: “The District continues to experience a heavy demand for shelter for families.The DCG Family shelter has been at or near its capacity of 135 families since the winter season. DHS has no plans to exceed the shelter’s maximum capacity. Rather we are working to meet the housing needs of families both currently in the shelter system and those who are applying for shelter with the housing programs available to us, with a goal of moving families to stable housing as quickly as possible.”
As of the end of March, there were 292 families on a District waiting list for services. Swan and Co. admit that the shelters for families are full. Families just have to wait until there’s a vacancy at D.C. General.