Unhoused men help build DC’s new state-of-the-art shelter

Rendering image of the 801 East Men’s Shelter, which opened in Southeast on Monday, Jan. 24, 2022. It includes a daytime services center with a mail room, computer lab, barbershop and laundry facility. (Courtesy Coakley Williams)

D.C. took a big step toward the mayor’s goal of reducing homelessness with the opening of a new men’s shelter on Monday.

The state-of-the-art, 88,000-square-foot 801 East Men’s Shelter is drawing attention in Southeast for its architecture and for its construction, which city leaders said was tailored to the needs of a single person with nowhere to live.

The new shelter, which will sleep 396 residents, is the first in the city’s shelter redevelopment plan after the closure of D.C. General, a hospital being used as a shelter for decades.

The $56 million construction project includes a low-barrier shelter and beds reserved for seniors and people with medical needs, as well as capacity to expand during hypothermia season. It’s a LEED Gold-certified building, for energy efficiency, and offers a separate section for men who are on a work schedule.

It was a challenge for the city to provide a space for single residents, Department of Human Services Director Laura Zeilinger said Monday. She said they designed the new center to focus on the different needs of most residents — by day and by night.

“Instead of huge rooms with lots of bunk beds, we have replaced that with multiple floors, smaller dorms, and no bunk beds. Each bed is equipped minimally with a personal nightstand an electric outlet where guests can charge their phones and their own spaces for storing their belongings,” she said.

The center also has a large intake area, so residents don’t have to stand out in the cold to check in, and a day center where residents can do laundry, get a haircut or connect with services. And the center has beds designated for those who need medical attention and for seniors.

“And so when we put all these pieces together; when we treat people with dignity, when we meet them where they are, we can achieve what we set out to do, and that is to make homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said at the ribbon-cutting of the shelter on the St. Elizabeths campus in Southeast.

Some of the laborers on the new shelter were residents of the old shelter who formed a group called the Good Fellas, said Department of General Services Director Keith Anderson, who thanked builder Coakley & Williams Construction in partnership with Blue Sky Construction for their participation in the job skills program.

“From your work, the Good Fellas work crew has was created. This hard-working group of men lived at the pre-existing shelter and chose to train and then work alongside the DGS team to build the new shelter. I cannot be prouder of their efforts,” Anderson said.

Since the implementation of the mayor’s Homeward DC program in 2016, overall homelessness has decreased by 38% and family homelessness by 73%, the administration shared in a news release. In that time period, the District increased investments in permanent supportive housing by 60%, according to the administration.

Megan Cloherty

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

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