After nearly four years, D.C.’s hotel shelters for medically vulnerable people experiencing homelessness will close this month.
D.C. launched the Pandemic Emergency Program for Medically Vulnerable Residents (PEP-V) program in 2020, providing space in hotel rooms to people who were at a high risk for severe illness from COVID-19. The program served over a thousand people, and 1,185 people who lived in the hotels were connected to permanent housing, D.C. Department of Human Services (DHS) representatives said in an Interagency Council on Homelessness meeting on Nov. 29.
D.C. announced in early 2023 that the program would shut down within the year, as federal funds that supported the effort disappeared. At the time, 529 people lived at the three PEP-V sites. As the city moved people into housing, the hotels closed — first, Fairfield in May, and then Arboretum in August. The last site, Skyline, is slated to close on Dec. 30, with all residents leaving by Dec. 15, DHS representatives said at the meeting.
Originally, the hope was for everyone leaving PEP-V to move into a housing program or nursing home by the end of September, but as of Nov. 29, 77 people remain in the program. Twenty-four of the remaining residents are slated to move into respite or medical shelter beds at the 801 East shelter, with many waiting to move to a long-term care facility.
The other 53 residents are working on moving into housing with a voucher, DHS representatives said, and will be eligible for bridge housing, a housing program that serves as a short-term shelter while participants apply for vouchers. At the meeting, DHS representatives admitted there may not be 53 spots open in the traditional bridge housing facilities but committed to finding other shelter options.
Wes Heppler, counsel to the Legal Clinic for the Homeless, said at the meeting he was disappointed PEP-V residents did not all move directly into housing. Some people who otherwise avoid shelter came inside due to the non-congregate nature of PEP-V, he said, and they’d have trouble in congregate shelters while waiting for housing.
Initially, the city hoped to open its new non-congregate shelter, at the site of the former George Washington University dorm the Aston, by the end of the year, with beds available for PEP-V clients. But the shelter is delayed, a DHS representative said at the meeting, due to issues with construction and contracting. The shelter will open in mid-spring at the earliest.
While an anonymous group of residents filed a second lawsuit to prevent the shelter from opening, DHS representatives said that isn’t contributing to the delay.