D.C. Begins Construction on First of 6 New Family Homeless Shelters

by: Shantella Y. Sherman Special to the AFRO ssherman@afro.com
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The city recently celebrated the groundbreaking of the first new family homeless shelters, designed to restore dignity and provide wrap-around services to District residents who have lost their homes.  Located on Fifth Street Northwest, the groundbreaking marked a critical step in D.C.’s effort to close and replace the D.C. General Family Shelter.

And while the mayor’s office cites an overall reduction in the number of homeless families in the District – a decline of nearly 22 percent in the last year – housing insecurity (including affordable units) continues to plague the city overall.

A drawing of what the shelter on Fifth Street, NW, that began construction on July 6, will look like after its completion. (Courtesy Photo)

“Our city should not be proud of the conditions at D.C. General or the fact that we had made an old hospital a place for families to live,” Bowser said at the groundbreaking on July 6.  “D.C. General has too often failed to help the families who need us most. Today by breaking ground on safe and dignified short-term family housing, the District takes us one big step toward helping those families and ending homelessness in the District.”

The new facility includes 45 family units, 20 bathrooms, laundry rooms, a basketball court, a playground and a courtyard.  It represents what District officials want to make available citywide: short-term housing for up to 50 homeless families with on-site services to help stabilize them and transition them to permanent homes of their own.

“This is such a shining example of what can be done to fix a serious problem that has been left unabated for decades and forced hundreds of families into dingy motels and makeshift housing,” Ward 4 resident    Wendell Black told the {AFRO}.  “When we think of shelters, we often think of single men, drug addicts, and ex-cons, but too often, it’s single women and children – the most vulnerable in the city.  The Mayor has kept her word to try to fix the situation.”

Bowser said her administration’s plan to end homelessness embraces a housing-first strategy with the underlying goal of permanent housing for all residents.  Having invested more per capita in affordable housing than any other jurisdiction in the country, the city has thus far given $100 million annually to the D.C. Housing Production Trust Fund and committed more than $106 million to the construction and preservation of roughly 1,200 housing units.

Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd said community partners working together to shape the project included the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, community organizations and civic associations.

“It’s especially exciting for this ward to be the first in the city to reach such a critical milestone in the effort to close D.C. General and replace it with safe, clean and dignified short-term family housing in each ward,” Todd said.

In the coming weeks, work will begin on similar projects in Wards 7 and 8. Construction is set to begin on new buildings within a few months in Wards 3, 5 and 6.

“The Department of General Services in committed to elevating the quality of life for all District residents especially those in need of housing support,” said Department of General Services Director Greer Gillis,  “We are honored to be a part of the team taking the first step in making the Mayor’s vision a reality.”

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