A young boy jumped from a red burgundy van in front of D.C. General family shelter as his father took a long drag from a cigarette and called the boy’s brother to climb out of the vehicle. Their mother was in the front seat rushing to get her things organized.
Both parents have been participating in programs to help them find employment and housing while living at the shelter for the past year. Now they’re leaving the shelter system to live independently. “I am moving somewhere else,” the mother said with pride.
There is broad public support for replacing the shelter, including from the families living there. However, replacement shelters are still being built and most current shelter residents do not know when and where they will be placed.
Based on interviews with 15 residents during multiple visits, Street Sense learned that the only part of the replacement plan that residents were sure of was that the shelter is closing and they are supposed to be placed somewhere else. Four residents said they are just waiting on their caseworkers to inform them of the next steps. Three others, including the family in the van, are moving to their own apartments. The rest of the interviewees had no idea what to expect but trusted they would be placed somewhere.
All five staff members interviewed were worried about whether they would lose their jobs or be relocated to a different site. Staff were not provided information to answer residents’ questions.
For fear of being kicked out of the shelter or losing their jobs, no one interviewed was willing to be quoted for this story.
Most residents of the shelter believe D.C. General should have been closed years ago because of inhumane living conditions. Some residents complained about rodents and open communal bathrooms. Others reported mold and insect infestations.
Primary concerns were the safety of children in the communal bathrooms and the frequency that children living in the shelter became sick. Some said their kids had developed respiratory problems such as asthma from living in D.C. General.
On June 25, D.C. Council spent four hours questioning advocates and city officials about construction delays uncovered by the Washington City Paper.
Advocates said the Department of Human Services and the Department of General Services have been hiding information since construction began. To emphasize this point, a Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless attorney held up documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request that were entirely redacted.
Nonetheless, DHS and DGS claimed D.C. General will close on time and every family will have a place to go.
Kadidiatou Doucouré contributed to this report.
The collaborative body of work for D.C. is cataloged at https://dchomelesscrisis.press.