Where to build a homeless shelter: All areas of Prince George’s Co ‘should shoulder this responsibility’

Capitol Heights, Maryland, residents are rallying to speak out against a proposed homeless shelter along Addison Road — a project that’s been in the works for about 15 years that has led them to believe it was off the table — even though it’s in the same place where a shelter already exists.

Some in the neighborhood worry that hundreds of millions of dollars of investment, if not more, could be jeopardized to some extent if the shelter is built just a few blocks away from where Addison Road meets Central Avenue. It’s an area that’s part of County Executive Angela Alsobrooks’ key economic development goals in her second term.

The current shelter there is small, located on the back side of a lot that’s part of Addison Road. It’s right next door to dozens of town houses, which a county spokesman points out were built after the 33-year-old existing shelter was there.

“The proposal that the county is floating now would be for a larger building fronting on Addison Road South,” said Bradley Heard, president and founder of the Greater Capitol Heights Improvement Corporation. He worries the new design and location will scare off those who might be willing to invest in the area.

“The county executive is investing a lot, the county government and state government is investing a lot in the Addison Road area, and you wouldn’t want to do something that’s counter to that,” he said.

Heard also acknowledged the need for more housing in the county, as well as more services that help the county’s growing population. He stressed there are better options in other parts of District 7 that would be a better site for the new shelter while staying close to public transit.

“What we’re asking the county to do is to be strategic, to think about where they place these facilities and not just assume that because they own land on which the current small one is, that that’s the right place,” Heard said.

What is the right place?

“We recommended a site in this council district over by the Naylor Road Metro Station,” said Heard. “It’s sort of a boarded up seafood market that’s desperately in need of revitalization. It’s kind of closer to the Metro than the 603 Addison Road site.”

He also said there’s a vacant lot of land in the area of Central Avenue and Cindy Lane, on the opposite side of the Addison Road-Seat Pleasant Metro Station, where the current shelter is, which could also be used, as well as locations in other parts of the county, too.

“We wanted to make sure to recommend sites in Council District 7 because we believe that really all areas of the county should shoulder this responsibility,” he said.

Complaints about other shelters in the past have caused Alsobrooks to complain that residents were taking a “not in my backyard” approach to helping the county’s homeless population. When residents in Bladensburg spoke out about a proposed shelter earlier in the year, she bristled, saying, “The issue is very clear: Everybody loves poor people as long as they don’t live anywhere near them. That’s literally what I have found.”

When asked about this particular complaint, Anthony McAuliffe, a spokesman for Alsobrooks, provided a statement: “The County has engaged the nearby community as we work to replace the aging Men’s Transition Center. On May 8, 2023, County leadership hosted a meeting with the members of this community to explain where we currently are in this process, continue to hear their concerns, and share the changes to the design of the facility that we made to address some of their previous concerns.

“We all have a responsibility to do our part to make Prince George’s County a great place to live for everyone, and that includes providing a safe place for individuals at risk of homelessness,” McAuliffe said.

Heard agrees that the county has to take on that responsibility.

But, he also said it was a more nuanced argument. “You have to balance your moral responsibility to provide services to those who need it, but that is balanced with a practical responsibility with not placing those services in a location that could hamper development, that could interfere with ongoing economic development efforts. And you can do both.”

Heard said that he’s not the only one with those concerns either. Earlier this year, Lloyd Blackwell, who lives in the neighborhood and heads Harambee Development Group, stood with Alsobrooks in a blighted shopping center along Central Avenue to help underscore the transformation coming to central Prince George’s County.

In an interview posted on the Greater Capitol Heights Investment Corporation blog, Blackwell told Heard that the shelter could influence the decisions of developers who don’t have the same ties to the area that he does.

“It is hard under the best of circumstances to develop in Prince George’s County,” Blackwell said. “Having an architecturally underwhelming homeless shelter pop up close to one of the most marketable parts of the Metro station area may be just the kind of straw that breaks the camel’s back and stops a project in its tracks.”

Heard said he will continue to lobby the county to look at other alternatives.

McAuliffe, the county executive spokesman, closed out his statement by saying, “We will continue to engage the community as we proceed with the project.”

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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