Mayor Bowser’s administration deserves praise for presenting a plan to close the homeless shelter at the old D.C. General Hospital. We have long known it isn’t a fit place to house people, especially families. The plan presented to the public isn’t perfect but then a plan like this never will be. There will always be those complaining about a homeless shelter being located in their community.
The site proposed for Ward 5 appears to be problematic as it is in a largely industrial area, which would create a problem for the people living in the shelter. One of the reasons to disburse homeless people across the city would be to allow them to become part of a community and for those communities to be good neighbors and try to get to know those in the shelter and maybe help find permanent housing and jobs. We need to begin the process by accepting no one wants to live in a shelter.
A recent Washington Post column by Terrance McCoy reported on the community meeting on the shelter proposed for Ward 3, which brought out some supportive residents and some who fit the accepted acronym NIMBY (not in my backyard) for people opposing the shelter or any city service they don’t want moving into their neighborhood. Often these are the same people who say how awful housing is for the homeless and that they want the city to do something about it — just not near them.
The good people, and there are many in Massachusetts Heights where the Ward 3 proposed shelter would go, have a great neighborhood. It is near the Washington Cathedral and a conclave of many million-dollar homes. Upon hearing the plan “one neighbor sent an email to her neighbor saying she was “Betrayed.” The post went on to report the following: “The news has left the neighborhood in ‘utter turmoil,’ said Jane Loeffler, who is trying to sell her $1.4 million home in Ward 3. What will this mean for property values? What about crime? Bad things do happen around shelters — you can’t prevent it,” she wrote. “It goes with the territory.”
Now I don’t know Loeffler but have known many people like her when it comes to dealing with a proposed shelter in their neighborhood. As one-time Coordinator of Local Government for the City of New York, with jurisdiction over the city’s community boards, I have seen this play out time and time again. Otherwise well-meaning people get hysterical over having to live in close proximity to people who may not be as fortunate as they are. Yet according to the Post, “On average, researchers have found supportive housing facilities servicing the homeless and other vulnerable populations rarely lead to higher crime rates or a drop in property values.” “Ingrid Gould Ellen, an urban planning expert who analyzed how 123 New York City housing facilities affected the surrounding neighborhoods, a few of which were wealthy said, “It is critical that these developments are well-built and well-designed, well-maintained and well-managed.” So it will be critical for the city to make sure this happens and for communities to monitor the city to ensure it’s done right.
It would be a breath of fresh air if Loeffler and the other residents of Ward 3 who may be frightened of what this new shelter will mean for their neighborhood, would instead of fighting it take a positive attitude and make sure more crime and lower property prices don’t happen. The proposed Ward 3 facility would house 38 families. It would be great if such a wealthy community, with many resources at its disposal, would find 38 community organizations, houses of worship or even individuals who would take it upon themselves to adopt one family each. As these families move in they could work with them, get to know them, and help out with integrating them into the community. This would be a great way to make this facility a benefit for the neighborhood and for those living in it. Each side would get to learn something and the community may just come to realize that, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBT rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.