This afternoon, I’m delivering ANC 6B’s testimony on PR20-854, Sense of the Council for Closing DC General Shelter Resolution of 2014 at a Public Oversight Roundtable being held by the DC Council’s Committee on Human Services. Below is the full text of my testimony.
Good afternoon 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 DC General campus, located on 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 express ANC 6B’s strong support for Resolution 20-854, Sense of the Council for Closing DC General Shelter Resolution of 2014. I’m testifying on behalf of ANC 6B, which approved my testimony 10-0 during its July 8, 2014 meeting with a quorum present.
As you know, ANC 6B supports the closure of the temporary family emergency shelter at DC General. We view 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.
When the city started housing homeless families at DC General in 2008, 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 overconcentration of people, the site has an overconcentration of services.
You have held a number of hearings on the topic of DC General, Mr. Chairman, and have heard directly from shelter residents about poor, unsafe conditions at the deteriorating old hospital campus. 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. We also believe that these alternative housing options, including a smaller scale shelter and permanent supportive housing, should be a part of the Reservation 13/Hill East Development.
The lack of a humane and holistic plan for housing homeless individuals in this city concerns us greatly, and developing such a plan should be a top priority of the Mayor and the Council. We support PR20-854 because it is a step in the right direction. The resolution outlines clear benchmarks that the city must meet to close DC General, and we urge the Mayor and Council to pursue strategies to achieve these benchmarks immediately.
To that end, we would ask that the committee consider amending the resolution to strengthen the time component. While we appreciate the resolution’s reference to closing DC General before the height of the 2014-2015 hypothermia season, our preference would be for the resolution to set a date, or request that the Mayor set a date, for DC General to be closed. Setting such a date would have the combined effect of pushing the Mayor and Council to develop a plan to achieve the benchmarks and to provide the funding necessary to identify and invest in better housing alternatives for families at the shelter.
Another option would be to amend the resolution to direct the Mayor and Council to produce a plan to achieve the benchmarks by the fall of 2014 or spring of 2015. Without some sort of time component, we fear that both the Mayor and Council will ignore this resolution to the detriment of shelter residents and the city.
Once a plan to close DC General is in place, the Mayor and Council will have to make the investments necessary to make it happen. We support the idea that the savings from the closure of DC General (around $14 billion a year) should be used to fund alternative emergency shelter capacity. And we agree that the Mayor and Council need to fully fund homelessness prevention and affordable housing programs such as permanent supportive housing, rapid rehousing and the local rent supplement program. Of course, it is easy to state this in a resolution versus actually funding these investments in the budget. We are going to need the Mayor and Council to follow through on these commitments.
Finally, we want to thank you, Chairman Graham, for introducing this resolution and for your strong support and commitment to closing DC General and identifying better housing options for homeless families. We also want to thank the seven other co-sponsors, especially Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells and Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander, for recognizing that DC General should not be our city’s answer to addressing homelessness.
Thank you for your time, and I’d be happy to answer any questions.