- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 16, 2016

D.C. residents are pushing back against Mayor Muriel Bowser’s plan to put a homeless shelter in every ward, criticizing not only the proposed sites but also the lack of transparency in the planning process.

“The complete lack of transparency on how these locations were selected has eroded the public’s trust in the Bowser administration,” said Rhys Gerholdt, who lives near a proposed site in Ward 5’s Langdon community. “Had the mayor’s office enlisted the community’s help to find a location, they would have quickly realized what a bad site it was — and would have had an army of residents helping them find a more suitable location.”

“We’re hoping for more transparency,” Danielle Parsons, a co-founder of the Kennedy Street Development Association, said of the proposed Ward 4 site. “Not to fight it, but just to know what’s happening.”

Last week, Ms. Bowser laid out plans to close the city’s main homeless shelter at the former D.C. General Hospital by 2018 and replace it with smaller facilities around the city, identifying locations in each ward. The plan is estimated to cost $22 million a year.

But city officials have not explained how or why the sites were chosen, despite the Democratic mayor having made transparency a cornerstone of her administration. Her office recently released an “Accountability Report” listing her campaign promises and whether they were accomplished.

In an email to The Washington Times, Ms. Bowser’s chief spokesman, Michael Czin, denied that the selection process was done in secret.

“Community engagement is a bedrock of this administration and the mayor has been vocal about her plan to close DC General and replace it with smaller, dignified community-based temporary housing,” Mr. Czin said. “Additionally, we’ve attended dozens of community meetings around the city and asked residents to sign the Mayor’s pledge to end homelessness.”

About 12,000 residents have signed the pledge, he said.

Though Ms. Bowser has indicated that she won’t budge on any of the proposed sites, Mr. Czin said the conversation about the shelters has only just begun.

“We look forward to continuing that conversation in the coming weeks and months,” he said.

Ward 5 residents have been the most vocal in their opposition to Ms. Bowser’s site selection, saying that neighborhood already is teeming with homeless shelters with few amenities to help poor families.

Mr. Gerholdt said residents don’t oppose another shelter in their midst but believe the selected site — 2266 25th Place NE — won’t work.

“I am honestly dumbfounded how the mayor and her team could have selected this site as a place to house young mothers and their families,” he said. “Under the mayor’s proposal, we would be going from dumping homeless people in DC General to dumping them in an industrial wasteland next to a strip club.”

The Ward 5 shelter would be just around the corner from the Catholic Charities men’s shelter and a homeless day shelter on Adams Place, as well as the Days Inn on New York Avenue — one of several hotels in the city that host homeless families.

D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie, Ward 5 Democrat, was the only lawmaker to voice opposition when the sites were announced last week. He said that businesses and the community would be negatively affected by having four homeless shelters within a half-mile of one another, adding that he didn’t know if he could support the plan if the Ward 5 site remains unchanged.

Residents of other wards have voiced concern as well. Some in Ward 4 said they will back the proposed site at 5505 Fifth St. NW as long as Ms. Bowser is more open about how she plans to move forward.

The Ward 4 shelter will be located between Kennedy and Longfellow streets. Ms. Parsons, of the Kennedy Street Development Association, said she was taken by surprise upon being notified of the site the night before Ms. Bowser’s announcement last week.

Still, she hopes the mayor will use the new homeless shelter as part of an effort to revitalize the Kennedy Street corridor in Northwest — something residents have been advocating for a year.

“If it’s a well run facility, it shouldn’t be a negative,” Ms. Parsons said.

The development association said in an official statement that the shelter and the community can benefit from each other as long as Ms. Bowser listens to residents.

“We believe that ensuring that the shelter provides a safe and supportive environment for its residents while also making certain that the building’s design and the amenities it will bring benefit nearby residents and businesses are of utmost priority,” the association said.

However, the association said, that can happen only if concrete plans are made and the community is part of the process. Residents and businesses have dealt with the blighted state of Kennedy Street for far too long, and failed promises like the Kennedy Street Streetscape Plan in 2008 have made them wary of what politicians tell them.

“Concrete plans that would help address at least some of these issues,” the association said.

Council member Brandon Todd, Ward 4 Democrat, said he supports the idea of using the shelter as a catalyst for development of the Kennedy Street community.

“The chosen location is currently vacant; this new facility will bring vitality and new life to the block, and will provide a much needed range of services for people who are in difficult situations of all kinds,” Mr. Todd told The Washington Times.

Tim Johnson, co-owner of the Culture Coffee shop on Kennedy Street, agrees that the shelter could be good for the neighborhood — as long as the plan is executed well and Ms. Bowser lets residents weigh in.

“I think it’s fine if they do what they say they’re going to do and treat people right,” Mr. Johnson said. “But at the end of the day the government is going to do what they have to do. The questions is what happens if they put the shelter in place and it becomes a burden to the community.”

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