The Office of Mayor Muriel Bowser announced plans to begin demolition of D.C. General family shelter, according to a Jan. 21 press release. Demolition will begin with vacant building on the campus in April and continue later in 2018 on those currently in use, following the relocation of residents.
D.C. General shelters approximately 250 families experiencing homelessness per day. The converted hospital has been widely criticized by District residents for being unsafe, dirty and too far removed from services that shelter residents need to become self-sufficient. The facility came under further scrutiny in 2014 when 8-year-old Relisha Rudd disappeared with an employee. Rudd remains missing.
The closing of D.C. General was a campaign promise of the mayor. A year into her term, Bowser rolled out a plan to close the shelter this year and replace its capacity with smaller short-term housing facilities in each ward. After pushback from D.C. Council on the deals for development of the replacement facilities, the timeline of the project was extended through 2020.
According to the press release, construction is already in progress on housing facilities in wards 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8, and recent approval was granted for the last short-term housing site in Ward 1. However, the construction of all facilities will not be completed by the time D.C. General closes, the Washington Post reports.
A letter distributed to D.C. General residents promised “access to appropriate shelter” to anyone who has not secured housing by the end of 2018. If there are not enough landlords willing to accept residents with temporary housing vouchers, the city would need to expand its use of motels to house displaced residents of D.C. General following its closure.
Bowser received backlash for lack of community involvement during the planning process for the new housing facilities, as well as for their proposed locations. In 2016, residents of Ward 5 raised concerns about the proximity of that ward’s proposed new shelter to several nightclubs, a bus depot and a trash-management facility.
Despite this, many D.C. General residents are said to be looking forward to moving out of the shelter and hopeful that the smaller facilities will bring improved living conditions. 28-year-old Jessica Odom, a mother and resident of D.C. General, told Current Newspapers in 2017 that the prospect of having a police station nearby to a new shelter in Ward 3 would make her feel safer than she does living at D.C. General.
Each new housing facility will provide “safe, clean, and private shelter for up to 50 families who are experiencing homelessness,” according to the release.
“We know we can and must do better than D.C. General,” Bowser said in a statement, “and with the new, smaller short-term family housing we will be able to get more of our most vulnerable families connected to the services they need to get back on their feet and into permanent housing.”
This article has been updated to clarify that demolition of the building containing D.C. General Family Shelter will not begin in April. Work will only begin on uninhabited parts of the campus at that time.