Homeless families get move-out date as controversial shelter nears close

WASHINGTON — D.C. has set a timetable for closing its largest shelter housed in the old DC General Hospital.

And while it has long been talked about, some homeless residents are surprised at word they’ll need to find housing elsewhere in the fall.

Sunday night, a letter was slipped under the doors of some 250 residents with the news that the city plans to shutter its largest shelter.

“Many of us who have been there for a long time have heard for many times over the last decade that DC General is closing,” said Jamila Larson, who founded the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project and has been working out of the site in the Hill East neighborhood for 10 years.

Larson’s non-profit is re-evaluating how it plans to continue to serve some 300 homeless children whose families will move from the shelter but will likely continue to utilize the program.

“Some people said: ‘Oh, I don’t have to worry, I’m going to find housing by that time,'” Larson said. “Others were surprised. When families are in crisis mode, they’re focused on finding housing for themselves.”

Mayor Muriel Bowser has said that closing DC General is one of her priorities. After creating an Interagency Council on Homelessness, she set the plan for its closure in 2015. Regional shelters are under construction in each of the city’s eight wards.

“DC General should never be used as a homeless shelter again, and we wanted to make good on that promise,” said Kristy Greenwalt, who is the director of the council.

The announcement to close the shelter this fall has nothing to do with the fact that it is one of the potential sites in the bid for Amazon’s headquarters, said Anu Rangappa, communications director for the mayor’s office.

The Department of Human Services will stop making new placements at the shelter in May, and it will begin ramping down services over the summer, Greenwalt said. The main building and building 12 — which are the two buildings currently used for the shelter — will be vacant by October and turned over to the Department of General Services for demolition, she said.

She reiterated the mayor’s office message that the timeline for closure is not dictated by the potential for Amazon to move its headquarters onto the site.

“Some of [the residents] may have been surprised because they’ve been let down a lot in the past, and I think a lot of people were excited to know this really is moving forward, that their voices have been heard and that it’s time to close that facility,” Greenwalt said.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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