This afternoon, I testified on behalf of ANC 6B at the DC Council’s Committee on Human Services oversight hearing for the Department of Human Services. My testimony, posted below, focused on the status of the DC General Shelter.
Good morning Chairman Graham and members of the Committee on Human Services. My name is Brian Flahaven, and I serve as chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B. My single member district, 6B09, lies in Hill East and is located immediately west of the Hill East Waterfront, also known as Reservation 13. My district also includes Barney Circle, the Historic Congressional Cemetery, and the Eastern Branch Boys & Girls Club Building.
I’m here today to testify about the status of the DC General shelter. I’m testifying on behalf of ANC 6B, which approved my testimony 8-0 during its March 12 Commission meeting.
First, we want to thank you, Mr. Chairman, and the committee for holding your Feb. 28 DC General hearing at the shelter. At the hearing, which I attended, current shelter residents talked about numerous difficulties with the building and with finding the support they need to obtain housing. Shelter management and staff talked about problems associated with over-concentrating so many people and services at one site. Representatives of the Department of Human Services testified that it costs the city $50,000 per family per year to house people at DC General and that the goal is to move families and individuals out of the shelter, not to invest additional dollars in a deteriorating building.
Unfortunately, the hearing also made it clear that while DHS may have a goal to move families out of DC General, the department does not have a concrete plan for achieving that goal. ANC 6B views housing so many incredibly needy families in such deplorable conditions, including a large number of families with children, as an outrage and embarrassment to our city and as completely counterproductive to the ultimate goal of ending homelessness. The lack of a humane and holistic plan to housing homeless individuals in this city concerns us greatly, and developing such a plan should be a top priority of the Mayor, DHS and the Council.
When the city started housing homeless families at DC General in 2007, it was announced as a temporary measure. Soon after the shelter opened, the city began housing more and more families at the old hospital, particularly as shelters were closed in other parts of the city. Instead of working to find suitable housing and shelter options within existing neighborhoods, city leaders chose the politically convenient approach of housing more and more families and individuals in a deteriorating, depressing building totally separated from the surrounding neighborhood and city.
In addition to the shelter, the city opened and expanded clinics at the site, including a methadone clinic. So, in addition to an over-concentration of people, the site has an over-concentration of services.
While all this was happening, ANC 6B and surrounding neighbors continued to push the city to implement the Reservation 13 master plan. The plan, approved by the Council in 2003 and created with substantial community input, envisions mixed-use development that will finally connect surrounding neighborhoods to the Anacostia River waterfront. The plan recognizes the site’s many advantages – waterfront location, access to Metro and close proximity to two wards – and it envisions bringing housing (including 30 percent affordable housing), retail and office space to an area of the city in desperate need of all three.
Unfortunately, the city’s expansion and now indecision on DC General is stalling mixed-use development at Reservation 13, with real consequences to the city and neighborhood. The city’s most recent Request for Expressions of Interest to develop the two Reservation 13 parcels closest to the neighborhood, issued in October 2012 and closed in January 2013, yielded only one response. Each time the city has issued a RFEI for Reservation 13 – and there have been three issued since 2008 – the number of responses has dwindled. With no plans for the eventual closure of DC General, the development community remains skeptical that the city is truly committed to developing the entire site.
ANC 6B strongly believes that the city’s goal should be closing DC General and transitioning homeless families and individuals to better housing options. And the commission also believes that the full vision of development plans for the Hill East Waterfront will remain stalled until the city provides a clear timeline for closing DC General.
To help us get a sense of where the city is on this issue, we urge the committee to ask DHS the following questions:
- Does the city have a plan for reducing the number of families and individuals living in DC General and eventually closing the building?
- Has the Mayor or DHS considered announcing a date for closure of DC General? Setting such a date would have the combined effect of pushing the Council to provide the funding necessary to provide better alternatives to homeless families while sending a signal to the development community that the city is serious about developing the site.
- Does DHS intend to discuss its plans for DC General with the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development? At a March 1 oversight hearing, Deputy Mayor Hoskins indicated that there have been no serious discussions between DMPED and DHS on the future of DC General. Given the city’s plans to develop the site, it seems appropriate that DHS should be coordinating closely with DMPED.
ANC 6B stands ready to work with the Mayor, DHS and this committee to support efforts to end homelessness and eliminate the need for shelters like DC General. And we also strongly urge the Mayor, DHS and the Council to make closing DC General a top priority, and to begin funding the programs necessary to make this a reality in the FY14 budget.
Thank you for your time, and I’d be happy to answer any questions.