Residents Approve, Disapprove of Homeless Shelters

Mayor Muriel Bowser fields questions from anxious Ward 6 resident about the proposed homeless shelter in their ward.  Bowser met with residents from several Wards regarding the proposed shelter, where she heard anger, frustration and approval.  Photo by Kandace Brown, HU News Service 

WASHINGTON — District residents expressed anger, concern, approval, excitement, frustration and acceptance in response to the city’s announcement of the locations of homeless shelters in their wards to replace the huge homeless shelter at D.C. General in Ward 7.

Mayor Muriel Bowser, city council members, Advisory Neighborhood Commission members and other city officials met with residents last week in community meetings in each ward to discuss and hear residents’ thoughts on the plan to place a city-owned housing facility in their neighborhoods.

In some cases, residents said the city had acted without properly consulting them.

“I have been living here 38 years,” said Willie White, who lives near the proposed shelter on Delaware Avenue southwest. “They did not even have the courtesy to come by and let me know what they were doing.”

In other cases, residents said the city had not done enough to make the facilities livable, such as providing private bathrooms for the residents.  In others, residents voiced rousing approval of the new facility.

A snapshot of what residents said at their meetings

WARD 6 — Tensions ran high at Friendship Baptist Church in southwest Washington. Angry residents told the mayor, City Councilman Charles Allen and other government representative they had not been properly consulted on the project.

“The Southwest community really wants to help the situation,” said Dwayne Brown, a 15 year resident of southwest Brown said, “but I am hearing the word proposal, and it seems that this is a plan that the mayor and the team said, ‘This is the plan, so live with it.’”

Residents said they are a caring community, but the new shelter will place a lot of demands on a community that already has significant needs — such as better schools, public safety, transportation and recreation.

“If the mayor had asked my opinion, I would have told her that I don’t think this is the best location in southwest 6D to locate it,” ANC Commissioner Stacey Cloyd said.

Jamila White, a volunteer at D.C. General, said she was disappointed at much of what she heard.

“It’s disheartening to hear my neighbors say ‘not in my community, not in my backyard,’” White said. “Those families give me hope, and they need us.”

Officials revealed this drawing of the homeless shelter to residents in Ward 7

WARD 1 — In the packed conference room of the Anthony Bowen YMCA, Bowser, Councilwoman Brianne Nadeau and community leaders tried to assure anxious residents that the new shelter would not have a negative impact.

The new facility at 10th and V streets will accommodate up to 29 families in its apartment-style housing units, they said.

“It looks like the other luxury housing in our area,” Nadeau said.

Some voiced approval.

“I don’t think we have a lot to be worried about,” eight-year resident Joseph Gavrilovich said.

 Others weren’t so sure.

"The folks who live right near there are the ones who are going to be bearing the consequences moving forward for decades," said one unconvinced resident.

To applause, residents express concern about increased crime, decreased property values and other associated issues.   Nadeau said the city will provide a network of services — health care, employment, permanent housing search and social services – that should remediate such concerns.

Others said they felt the city had moved forward without adequate resident input.

“I feel so uninvolved in such an important aspect that it gives me little faith moving forward,” said Alex, who said his uncle was homeless. 

The mayor told community members it wasn’t the city’s intention to keep the plan away from residents.

“It is not possible to ask every single person whether they want a shelter at a particular site,” she said.

Selecting a site before direct community engagement was the most effective way to develop a comprehensive plan for the project, she said.

WARD 2 – While city officials were usually met by anxious and sometimes angry citizens during, residents here expressed confidence and approval of the new homeless shelter for women in their ward. 

“I go to the Holy Rosary Church, and I am so thankful for what you all have come together to do for the community, in terms of homelessness,” one person said.

Another audience member echoed approval.

 “I am truly impressed with this, from the design to the opportunities that you are allowing them,” he said.

The shelter, named the Patricia Handy Place for Women, opened last week near Chinatown and will offer services to over 200 women.

Michelle Chin, capital planner for Department of General Services, said the team that designed the shelter didn’t want it to stand out from other residential spaces.

Council members, including Councilman Kenneth McDuffie, above, were
present at their respective ward meetings to hear constituents.  
Photo by Diandra Bolton, HU News Service 

“We’re changing the look of homelessness,” Chin said. “We want it to look like the neighborhood.”

WARD 4 – Residents here appeared more concerned about making sure the homeless residents had the best living conditions rather than falling property values and crime. 

Residents, for example, cheered when Taylor Massie expressed her concern about the proposed dormitory-styled housing, saying there was a contradiction between the mayor’s plans to “dignify” the city’s homeless residents and placing them in the housing her administration proposes.

” I don’t feel that the dormitory style is appropriate for children and families,” Massie said. “I don’t think it inspires dignity.”  

Michelle Jones, an elementary school teacher, said she thought having private bathrooms was important for the safety of the shelter’s residents, especially among children who would otherwise be forced to use the bathrooms with older adults.

The new shelter, scheduled for 5505 Fifth street NW, will have 49 rooms and will accommodate up to 120 people.

Overall, residents said they were pleased with the opening of their shelters.

“From what I’ve seen on the plan so far, I think it’s a win for the families, the city, and the administration,” small business owner Akili West said.

WARD 7 — Deputy Mayor Courtney Snowden and Councilwoman Yvette Alexander spent most of the meeting reassuring residents that the new facility will not only provide a better place for families, but will also allow residents to breathe easier and to see more development in their community.

Snowden told residents that there will be an abundance of programs and services within the facility that will assist families, including education training and employment services, health care, financial and budget management counseling and 24-hour staffing and security.

“These facilities will be among the most dignified, innovative and effective in the country,” he said.

Because the shelters in Ward 7 and are to be built on city-owned property, the city will make sure that local residents work on the new construction, he said.

 “We’re going to work really hard to make sure that these businesses are hiring [residents] or are home-grown right here in Ward 7 and Ward 8,” he said.

Alexander assured residents that the new building will be “beautiful” and functional.

“I want to see within these shelters the services that are needed to get back on their feet,” she said, “not just a place to stay, not just a roof over your head.”

WARD 5 – In a contentious meeting during which a number of residents stormed out, community members lamented the location of the shelter and the fact that the neighborhood already had too many similar facilities.

Some of the more than 100 residents who gathered at New Canaan Baptist Church said that the proposed location is in the midst of an industrial and warehouse district that includes various nightclubs, including Bliss and the infamous Stadium, and several bus depots and not conducive for families with small children and is far from public transportation and offers no parking.

 “I’m not really happy about the location, but I understand that might help bring up that location,” one man said.  Maybe this is a way that we can get the city to say ok we can put a shelter there, and we want this, this, this, and this done first.”

City administrator Rashad Young promised that the homeless shelter would have the amenities the area is currently.

Residents here also complained about the lack of inclusion in the development process.

“Why is it the political process makes these decisions without coming to the residents and the people were are affected by this decision first?” asked a resident who identified herself as Erin. “There are a lot of people in this room who might have solutions to this problem”

Many said their ward already houses the city’s second largest homeless population with between 500 to 600 at the Days Inn and the Comfort Inn.

The mayor told the audience she was amendable to accepting suggestions about the new location, but she stood firm on its location.

 “If I went out to a community and I asked people to raise their hands if they wanted temporary [shelter] in their neighborhoods, nobody would raise their hands,” Bowser said. “I have a law that I have to address, and the law says I have to shelter families.”

Howard University News Service reporters Diandra Bolton, Taj Brayboy, Kandace Brown, Leanna Commins, Tatyana Hopkins and Kiana Kisino contributed to this story