Kenyan McDuffie wants a new homeless shelter on Rhode Island Avenue. (AFRO File Photo)

D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) proposed that a District-owned homeless shelter be placed on the Rhode Island Avenue thoroughfare. That proposal has drawn strong support and opposition in his ward.

McDuffie revealed 1700 Rhode Island Avenue, N.E. as the best place for a homeless shelter in his ward at a town hall meeting held at the Israel Baptist Church, 1251 Saratoga Ave NE, May 27before a crowd of about 100 people.

“The property on 1700 Rhode Island Avenue is District-owned and it is not an eyesore,” he said. “We can integrate this homeless shelter into the community and while I understand that some of you don’t like it on Rhode Island Avenue, families who live in the site will have access soon to a new library, new grocery stores, and other new amenities.”

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) wants to close the city’s largest homeless shelter located at the D.C. General Hospital because it is considered unsafe and unsanitary. She proposed smaller shelters in all of the city’s wards and the D.C. Council supports her proposal.

“I think that today provided an opportunity to receive more input from residents,” Councilmember McDuffie told the {AFRO}. “You can’t agree with everyone who has an opinion, but I think we can all agree that we need to close this in order to provide smaller shelters that are more dignified than D.C. General.”

A few weeks ago the council rejected some of the proposed shelter properties, such as 2266 25th Place NE, because they were located on private land.  McDuffie took issue with Bowser’s proposed site along an industrial strip of land on Bladensburg Road, N.E. in his ward and embraced the Rhode Island Avenue site.

Jay Melder, chief of staff for the District’s Department of Health and Human Services, said there will be comprehensive services to assist shelter residents with housing, education, and employment. Melder added that security would be a top priority for those in the shelter and those living close by.

Dr. Sandra Campbell was one of the 17 people who spoke at the meeting and she isn’t happy about McDuffie’s plans. “I prefer the homeless shelter not be on Rhode Island Avenue because it is a Main Street,” Campbell said, referring to the city’s program to highlight and upgrade leading District thoroughfares. “I am not ignorant of homelessness in this city and I don’t have a hard heart. Rhode Island Avenue is a bustling economic corridor and we need people on the street shopping in stores and dining in restaurants for the avenue to be vibrant.”

“There are two group homes in the proposed area of the homeless shelter,” Willie Hewett, a resident of the ward, said to McDuffie. He echoed concerns raised by Campbell of Rhode Island Avenue’s potency as a commercial artery that could be ruined by the shelter.

McDuffie was unmoved by the criticism of his decision. “When I came into office four years ago, Rhode Island Avenue was one of my highest priorities,” the council member said. “Things are happening on Rhode Island Avenue. The assumption that some people are making that homeless people will not contribute to that area is not fair.”

Louvenia Williams is the executive director of the Edgewood/Brookland Family Support Collaborative and favors McDuffie’s plan. “Council member McDuffie, don’t change the footprint,” Williams said. “The homeless shelter will fit into the community. We should surround these families with the love and the support that they need.”

Linda Poulson contributed to this article.