- The Washington Times - Monday, March 7, 2016

On a dead-end street in an industrial block in Northeast Washington, fences tangled with razor wire abut the abandoned warehouse where city officials want to house as many as 50 homeless families by 2018.

Nearby amenities include a Metro bus maintenance yard, two nightclubs, a strip club, several towing companies and a waste transfer station.

“There is no grocery store, there is only one bus line close by, and the nearest Metro stop is a 45-minute walk,” said Rhys Gerholdt, an area resident who has been organizing opposition to the planned homeless shelter. “Mayor [Muriel] Bowser stresses that these new homeless shelters will be dignified and in residential settings, but this Ward 5 location is neither.”

The site of the proposed shelter, at 2266 25th Place NE in Ward 5’s Langdon neighborhood, is part of a $22-million-a-year initiative developed by Ms. Bowser to close the decrepit 285-room homeless facility at the former D.C. General Hospital in Southeast and transfer families into new shelters in all eight wards.

“These facilities will be modern, safe and dignified,” Ms. Bowser said in announcing the plan last month.

Yet the Bowser administration has encountered resistance to and criticism of the plan, which has been presented to residents as a fait accompli without any public input or information about how the sites were chosen and why. The Washington Times will examine each of the proposed sites.

Some Ward 5 residents, including D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie, have said the spot selected for the Northeast shelter is anything but dignified. Moreover, it would be within a mile or so of three other homeless shelters in the neighborhood.

“The [citywide] strategy is right, but the Ward 5 location faces a host of challenges,” Mr. McDuffie said last month. “I’ll ask that it be relocated, and I’ll ask for an analysis of the existing impact of these services on Ward 5.”

The site is owned by Douglas Development Corp., which is leasing the abandoned warehouse to the District for about $2 million a year. Construction on the homeless shelter is set to begin early next year, and the facility is expected to be ready to house families by early 2018.

Cargo and passenger trains use a set of railroad tracks behind the site, which has no nearby recreational facilities, pharmacies or grocery stores.

Two of the closest public parks — Loomis Park and Fort Lincoln Park — are across the tracks from the proposed homeless shelter.

The nearest Safeway and Aldi grocery stores are on 17th Street and Maryland Avenue, and the nearest Giant is on Brentwood Road and W Street. All three are about 1 miles, or a 30-minute walk, from the proposed shelter. A Mom’s Organic Market, an upscale grocery store, is about a mile away on New York Avenue.

The most accessible food options are restaurants such as McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, Checkers and KFC/Taco Bell at Bladensburg Road and New York Avenue.

Transportation, especially into downtown or Northwest, is limited. No Metro stop is within walking distance, and the only bus line — the B2 — runs from Mount Rainier to the Anacostia Metro.

A large bus facility, where the District’s transit agency repairs its fleet, operates across the street from the proposed shelter. Two nightclubs and a strip club are a short walk around the corner on 24th Place.

“I am not an expert in homeless policy, but I wonder if that’s really the location that’s going to get these people transitioned back into mainstream housing,” said Nolan Treadway, an Advisory Neighborhood Commission member in Langdon. “It’s the end of a dead-end street. Part of ending homelessness is getting people to feel like part of the rest of the world. It’s hard to imagine that location being a welcome home for those folks.”

Douglas Development declined to comment on details of the redevelopment.

“Since this is a mayor-led initiative, any inquiries should be directed to the [Department of Homeland Security] and the [Department of General Services] as both agencies are working directly with the mayor and can provide specific details about each property,” said Andrea Gourdine, a spokeswoman for Douglas Development.

Michael Czin, a spokesman for Ms. Bowser, did not go into details about how families living in the Ward 5 shelter would be able to access food and transportation.

But at a Feb. 9 press conference where the plan to close the former D.C. General was announced, City Administrator Rashad M. Young explained that the process was thorough and all sites were the best that the District could offer.

“We searched wide and far in the wards,” Mr. Young said. “We hired a broker to scour what was available.”

At the same press conference, Ms. Bowser was more pointed when asked about Mr. McDuffie’s protest of the proposed site.

“He didn’t suggest another location, I can tell you that,” Ms. Bowser said. “I wouldn’t put something in front of a neighborhood that wasn’t well thought out.”

With all this, residents still want a homeless shelter somewhere in Ward 5 — just not the site Ms. Bowser has selected.

“The truth of the matter is Langdon residents have homeless shelters at our doorsteps already,” Mr. Gerholdt said. “Langdon residents have been welcoming to these neighbors in need, and we are willing to do our part. But there are 19 other neighborhoods in Ward 5 — why on earth should we stack another shelter right in the same spot?”

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