With Mayor Vincent Gray’s plan to close D.C. General, the District’s largest homeless shelter, within the next year, leading mayoral candidates Muriel Bowser, David Catania and Carol Schwartz have proposed differing policy plans to accommodate the city’s homeless population after the shelter’s closure.
The city’s largest shelter is located in the space formerly occupied by D.C. General Hospital. The facility has already seen 40 rooms closed after being deemed unsafe, and the shelter’s budget is $10 million short from what it needs to house the homeless, The Washington Post reported. Fox 5 D.C. reported in May that the shelter’s rooms contained rodents and rust, and the showers were lined with mildew.
The plan to close the city’s largest shelter has raised questions about how to accommodate the District’s homeless population without D.C. General, especially in light of the expected 16 percent increase in homeless families this winter.
Democratic candidate and front-runner Muriel Bowser has voiced her support for Gray’s plan to close the shelter. To bridge the gap until new shelters can be built, Bowser would expand the city’s rapid rehousing program. However, Bowser’s Campaign Communications Director Joaquin McPeek noted that Bowser’s focus would be on reducing the need for such shelters in the first place, allowing the city to persist through the loss of the shelter.
“In working to produce more affordable and subsidized housing as well as implementing additional prevention services, as mayor, Muriel’s goal will be to lesson the number of families and individuals in need of shelter. Muriel is committed to finding long-term solutions for would-be homeless families and individuals before turning to a shelter, developing smaller shelter alternatives, and, ultimately, closing D.C. General,” McPeek said.
Dora Taylor, spokesperson with the D.C. Department of Human Service, agreed, saying that the existence of smaller, community-oriented shelters can be beneficial.
“Children should be able to stay at their neighborhood school, so it’s always ideal to keep families in the community rather than isolated in some place,” Taylor said.
According to The Washington Post, independent candidate David Catania (SFS ’90, LAW ’94), in contrast, asserted that D.C. General should stay open, focusing instead on improving facilities. Catania has also focused on reducing homelessness overall by using increased rent subsidy programs to make housing more affordable.
“[Catania’s plan will] identify programs and policies that are not working, improve them, or reinvest those resources in more effective programs,” the candidate’s official campaign pamphlet, published Sept. 14, said.
Independent candidate Carol Schwartz has argued for remodelling D.C. General or building a new facility after the upcoming winter, hoping to use assistance programs to bridge the gap until then.
“Instead of waiting on construction, Carol will increase funding for tenant-based assistance programs,” reads Schwartz’s Affordable Housing Position Paper.
D.C. Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson Dora Taylor stressed the department’s support of the mayor’s plan to close the facility, but also pointed to the importance of drawing attention to smaller neighborhood shelters to provide for the city’s homeless population.
“We absolutely think that D.C. General should be closed. We stand in support of the mayor’s decision to close it,” Taylor said. “We are trying to inform the community and raise awareness that there are already neighborhood- based shelters that people don’t even know about. They don’t know about them because there isn’t the kind of traffic and activities going on that people associate with homelessness.”
However, the department has fielded concerns from community members about the influx of community shelters into neighborhoods around the city.
“I hope that we are able to convince people that [allowing shelters in their neighborhoods is] the humane thing to do, and if anything, its value added to communities because we stabilize people in a better fashion when they’re able to stay in their community,” Taylor said.