‘Everything is working out for me:’ Residents of DC men’s shelter celebrate jobs program

Phillip Lea is one the men in the “Goodfellas Team.” It’s made up of seven men from the 801 East Men’s Shelter in Ward 8 who are now employed as construction workers building a new shelter nearby. (WTOP/Valerie Bonk)

Two of the men in the “Goodfellas Team,” made up of seven men from the 801 East Men’s Shelter in Ward 8 who are now employed as construction workers building a new shelter nearby. (WTOP/Valerie Bonk)

Barbara Price, project manager with Blue Skye & Coakley Williams Construction, gives WTOP a tour of the site of the new men’s shelter. (WTOP/Valerie Bonk)

Construction workers place pavers on the new men’s shelter in Ward 8. (Valerie Bonk/WTOP News)

Barbara Price, project manager with Blue Skye & Coakley Williams Construction, gives WTOP a tour of the site of the new men’s shelter. (WTOP/Valerie Bonk)

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Construction on a new men’s shelter in Southeast D.C. is well underway, and for some men, it means new jobs and a fresh start.

Phillip Lea, 58, is hard at work installing lights at the new East Men’s Shelter on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Ward 8.

“It’s something that I could tell my grandkids that I helped build that,” Lea said. “The blueprint, oh it’s beautiful.”

He was a counselor at a treatment center and then found himself homeless.

“I lost my job because of the pandemic,” Lea said.

He discovered the transition program at the men’s shelter in Ward 8, and it helped him prepare and interview with Blue Skye & Coakley Williams Construction.

Lea is now part of a group of seven men they call the “Goodfellas Team” who came from the 801 East Men’s Shelter and have construction jobs building the new $40 million shelter across the parking lot.

“They made the choice to change and we’ve provided an opportunity,” said Barbara Price, project manager with Blue Skye & Coakley Williams Construction.

The plan is for the shelter to open by the end of November.

On Tuesday, Mayor Muriel Bowser released Homeward DC 2.0, the District’s updated plan for making homelessness “rare, brief and nonrecurring.”

“We are proud of the progress we’ve made since launching Homeward DC, but there is more work to do. As we recover from the pandemic, we must keep pushing to not only protect our progress, but realize the goal we know is possible: ending long-term homelessness for all people in Washington, D.C.”

Administration officials highlighted the updated plan at an event celebrating the “Goodfellas Team.”

“We hope that as it comes to fruition, that that will provide long-term employment and change their lives,” said Price.

For Lea, he’s grateful for the chance to be able to rebuild. He’s moving into his own apartment in just a few weeks.

And Price said that Lea is set to take on a more permanent position with an electrician he’s working with on the shelter.

“I’m so proud,” Lea said. “My family’s proud of me and everything.”

Valerie Bonk

Valerie Bonk started working at WTOP in 2016 and has lived in Howard County, Maryland, her entire life. She's thrilled to be a reporter for WTOP telling stories on air. She works as both a television and radio reporter in the Maryland and D.C. areas. 

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