Testimony on DC General at Human Services Oversight Hearing

On Feb. 26, I testified on behalf of ANC 6B at the DC Council’s Committee on Human Services oversight hearing for the Department of Human Services. In the testimony, ANC 6B urges the Mayor, DHS and the Council to develop a plan to close the DC General Family Shelter. Here is ANC 6B’s full written testimony:

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 family shelter and to urge the Mayor, DHS and this committee to make the investments necessary to begin the process of closing DC General. I’m testifying on behalf of ANC 6B, which approved my testimony 8-0 during its February 11 Commission meeting.

Unfortunately, not much has changed at DC General since I testified before your committee last year. The shelter remains at capacity – recent reports suggest almost 1,000 individuals, including 600 children are currently at the shelter – and while the Department of Human Services may have a goal to move families out of DC General, the department appears to not be making much progress in 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 plans for Reservation 13, with real consequences to the city and neighborhood. While the city is moving forward with developing two parcels on the site – the two parcels closest to the Stadium-Armory Metro plaza, the rest of the site is on hold until the city comes up with a plan for DC General.

DC General should not be our city’s answer to addressing homelessness. ANC 6B strongly believes that the city’s goal should be closing DC General and transitioning homeless families and individuals to better housing options. Many of these new housing options, including a smaller scale shelter, could be a part of the Hill East Development. But we fear 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:

1)    What is the status of DHS’s plan for reducing the number of families and individuals living in DC General and eventually closing the building? It appears from recent media reports that progress in reducing the number of residents at DC General has taken a step back.

2)    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.

3)    Will the Mayor’s FY15 capital budget include significant investments in permanent supportive housing and/or funds to build new smaller scale shelters?

4)    Has DHS discussed its plans for DC General with the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development? 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 and making the capital investments necessary in the FY15 budget.

Thank you for your time, and I’d be happy to answer any questions.

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