One door closes, seven doors open

The over­due shut­ter­ing of the old D.C. Gen­eral marks a new day for home­less fam­i­lies.

The Washington Post - - FREE FOR ALL -

VERY LIT­TLE fan­fare ac­com­pa­nied the shut­ter­ing of the Dis­trict’s no­to­ri­ous shel­ter for home­less fam­i­lies at the old D.C. Gen­eral hos­pi­tal. There were brief re­marks, and the en­trance was chained shut. “We’re mov­ing on,” said Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D). “This is our past, and we’re fo­cus­ing on our fu­ture.”

The mayor was right not to cel­e­brate. The Dis­trict still faces many chal­lenges in the fight against home­less­ness, and the clos­ing of this dis­grace­ful shel­ter was long over­due. That it took the dis­ap­pear­ance four years ago of Rel­isha Rudd — who would have cel­e­brated her 13th birth­day on Oct. 29, the day be­fore D.C. Gen­eral closed — to spot­light the shel­ter’s de­plorable con­di­tions will for­ever be to the city’s dis­credit.

None­the­less, last month’s clos­ing was a sig­nif­i­cant mile­stone that came about largely be­cause of the per­se­ver­ance of Ms. Bowser and mem­bers of her ad­min­is­tra­tion, no­tably Depart­ment of Hu­man Ser­vices Di­rec­tor Laura Zeilinger. When she first ran for mayor four years ago, Ms. Bowser pledged that she would close the shel­ter, which at times housed as many as 250 fam­i­lies, dur­ing her first term in of­fice. There was lit­tle po­lit­i­cal up­side, but Ms. Bowser ad­vanced a plan to re­place D.C. Gen­eral with a net­work of seven smaller shel­ters lo­cated through­out the city. Two of the shel­ters have opened, in Wards 4 and 7, and a third will soon open in Ward 8. The re­main­ing shel­ters will be com­pleted be­tween next sum­mer and early 2020.

But the city’s strat­egy for tack­ling home­less­ness con­sists of more than just build­ing new shel­ters. There has been an em­pha­sis in stream­lin­ing the sys­tem and strength­en­ing sup­ports to fam­i­lies to keep them out of emer­gency shel­ters or shorten their stays once there. A promis­ing sign that the city may be on the right track can be seen in the fact that the fam­i­lies who had been housed at D.C. Gen­eral weren’t sim­ply re­lo­cated to the new neigh­bor­hood shel­ters but in­stead were placed in more per­ma­nent hous­ing. The num­ber of home­less fam­i­lies, ac­cord­ing to city of­fi­cials, has de­creased by al­most 40 per­cent over the past two years.

As for the D.C. Gen­eral build­ing, plans are to de­mol­ish it as quickly as is prac­ti­cal. Ms. Bowser told us, “I want to make sure that — who­ever sits in this of­fice — fam­i­lies and chil­dren are never again placed there.” Amen.

JAHI CHIKWENDIU/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) at a sym­bolic of­fi­cial clos­ing of D.C. Gen­eral on Oct. 30.

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