Residents Decry Open Air Drug Market In Front of DC General Homeless Shelter
Hill East Task Force Laments Lack of Progress on Closing Shelter
by Larry Janezich
At a meeting of ANC6B’s Hill East Task Force on Thursday night, Chair Brian Flahaven updated the 20 or so attendees on the (lack of) progress on the Mayor’s plan to close DC General’s homeless shelter by next fall.
It’s unlikely that many Hill East residents have ventured across 19th Street, SE, onto the campus comprised of a huge complex of buildings that makes up DC’s social services center. One who has is Hill East activist Jim Myers, and Myers told those present that they should consider the possibility that “they’ll never close the shelter.” He said that the city had to make a choice – that the concentration of city services and the number of people in need of service such as you find on Reservation 13 is unsustainable for DC. In support of his contention that the city pays scant attention to the campus or cares about what happens there, he pointed to the long-standing open air drug market operating within steps of the newly constructed playground for children housed in the shelter.
The concerns about the drug market was backed up by a Hill East Task Force member who said she had observed the drug market in operation at 11:00am a few weeks ago, “right next to the homeless shelter, the playground, and the federal government building preparing inmates for release on parole.” She suggested bringing in MPD and the Department of General Services Protection Services. Flahaven agreed that it was past due time to send them a letter.
Addressing the progress on closing the shelter, Flahaven summarized the Mayor’s planned two prong approach: 1) an open-ended search for several 40 – 50 unit shelters in the private sector, and 2) a search for existing city facilities which can be converted into shelters.
The need is to replace the shelter’s 288 units for about 1,000 people; as Flahaven pointed out, the actual need is probably greater, since those figures count only the units in the current shelter. An article by Pamela Constable in today’s Washington Post quotes Dora Taylor, spokeswoman for DC DHS, as saying the DC General shelter is now only half full, but the article notes that with the advent of the hypothermia season, the city will be soon overwhelmed with trying to place an estimated 840 families. The article also reports that CM Jim Graham says only a total of 409 spaces are currently available. Flahaven warned that the community needs to be on guard against any attempt to increase the current maximum capacity of DC General while trying to close it.
Flahaven’s criticism of the Mayor’s plan was twofold: If the plan is to close the shelter by next fall (he called this a very optimistic time frame) there should be a deadline on private sector Requests for Offers (RFOs). Second, he said, there seems to be no current talk of locating existing city facilities which could be used to house the homeless currently residing at DC General. Flahaven cited the need to identify one or two locations to achieve momentum on the effort, and said that Hill East residents should be willing to step up and have one of the mini-shelters on Reservation 13 to “send a message.” He expects ANC6B to be open to the idea, and would move on that once the closing of DC General was well on track.
He also noted that the city is spending “a ton of money” to upgrade conditions in DC General in the aftermath of the disappearance of Relisha Rudd and said that the money could be repurposed to support new shelters. Flahaven said he would take a letter to the city expressing these concerns to the November meeting of ANC6B, and would continue to make these issues a priority for the Hill East Task Force.