- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 3, 2018

A homeless shelter eventually will share space with a community center in Columbia Heights, if city officials have their way.

A D.C. Council committee has approved legislation to build a new shelter next to the Rita Bright Family and Youth Center on 14th Street NW.

The Homeless Shelter Replacement Amendment Act of 2017 proposes $20 million to construct 35 short-term housing units and 15 permanent units for homeless seniors in what is now the youth center’s parking lot. The Human Services Committee unanimously approved the bill Thursday.

The legislation “is an opportunity to enhance a well-utilized community space that benefits the entire community,” said a spokesman for councilmember Brianne Nadeau, Ward 1 Democrat and chair of the Human Services Committee. The youth center, in Columbia Heights, is in Ms. Nadeau’s ward.

Many homeless people frequent the area between the Rita Bright center and U Street as they seek shelter outside the Franklin D. Reeves Municipal Center or services at the Martha’s Table charity program.

Calvin, 68, said that he’s been homeless since 1961, and that he often naps in an alcove at the Reeves Center because he prefers to sleep outside than in shelters, where he’s had his belongings stolen. But Calvin, who declined to share his last name, said that a new shelter sounds “all right” and that he would “try it out.”

Community residents largely expressed support for the plan on Sunday, but some expressed reservations.

“I’m OK with it. Everybody needs a place to stay, especially when it’s cold,” said Glen Rogers, 38. “It’s hard time, a lot of people fall on hard times.”

“I think it’s great that they’re doing it,” said Hannah Ezkstein, 25, who can see the parking lot from her apartment, where she has lived for two years. “I’m myself a little concerned because we have some homeless people come into our apartment beforehand. But hopefully this will help get people off the streets.”

The homeless shelter plan had drawn ire from the neighborhood in January, when initial announcements left the fate of the Rita Bright center unclear.

Thomas Conrad, 27, who has lived in Columbia Heights his whole life, said Sunday he is “fine” with the shelter as long as “they don’t take anything away from the kids.”

Lori Kaplan, director of The Latin American Youth Center, which manages Rita Bright, said city officials have assured her the youth center can stay open during construction of the homeless shelter. She said she will “see how that plays out once the process starts.”

The legislation for the homeless shelter includes a plan to renovate the youth center, whose roof leaks and basketball court needs new flooring. Ms. Kaplan said her staffers are “excited” about the opportunity to spruce up the space and welcome any children from the homeless shelter.

The legislation is part of a larger plan by Mayor Muriel Bowser to end homelessness in the District by 2020. Miss Bowser, a Democrat who is seeking re-election this year, aims to close the rundown shelter on the grounds of D.C. General Hospital and replace it with small shelters in each of the city’s eight wards.

Ward 1 was the last one without an approved shelter plan.

“Working with our partners on the council, we will finally close D.C. General and provide safe, dignified short term family housing for the residents who need us most,” said mayoral spokeswoman LaToya Foster. “That is something we as a city should all be proud of.”

The mayor’s office did not respond to a request to view the building plans for the Ward 1 shelter.

The Homeless Shelter Replacement Amendment Act requires a second vote by the full council and the mayor’s signature to become law. The council is likely to vote on the bill before its recess in July.

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