Angry DC Residents Walk Out Of Mayor’s Homeless Shelter Meeting

Steve Birr | Vice Reporter

Residents of Washington, D.C.’s Ward 3 walked out on a Tuesday community meeting organized by the mayor for her homeless shelter initiative, blasting the plan as secretive, costly and unilateral.

Mayor Muriel Bowser is standing firm in her plan, refusing to discuss alternative shelter sites with local communities despite outrage across the city. Citizens in Ward 3 criticized the mayor Monday for scheduling the Tuesday meeting without notice and in conflict with another community gathering, adding resident opinions were not being respected.

Organizers of the homeless shelter meeting largely discussed the design of the proposed shelter, such as exterior styles, before a question and answer session began, which quickly turned contentious. (RELATED: Residents Call On DC Mayor To Cancel Homeless Shelter Meeting)

After one resident bluntly said the design “looks cheap,” Paul Cunningham, president of the Massachusetts Avenue Heights Citizens Association (MAHCA) delivered a sharp rebuke of the entire homeless shelter process. Cunningham ripped the mayor’s representatives for lack of transparency, unrealistic cost estimates and falsely claiming to have engaged residents over the plan. He said Ward 3 citizens would be happy to meet on the proposed shelter initiative when the mayor’s office is ready to take their concerns seriously.

Cunningham then put the microphone down and lead a mass exodus from the meeting, taking a large majority of the attendees with him.

“I had sent a letter to the mayor and the deputy mayor about this meeting, I thought they gave too little notice,” Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh told the Daily Caller News Foundation after the walkout. “It created a conflict and it just fed into this narrative that’s already been created about people being rushed and not respected in terms of the questions and concerns that they had, so I thought it should be rescheduled. So that’s part of what you’re seeing here, and it’s unfortunate because it doesn’t have to be this way.”

Cheh said “we’ll see what happens” about the April 19 vote on the plan, adding it may even get pushed back. Costs remain a big concern for many Council members. The plan will cost a reported $660 million over 30 years, and the city will cede control of the land to the property owners, according to The Washington Post.

Cheh spoke cautiously about the proposal’s future, but did hint at where she and other members of the Council are leaning.

“Well first of all that legislation that’s in front of us, as far as I’m concerned there are three parts,” Cheh told TheDCNF. “The part about skipping contracting and procurement, that’s out. The part about a council resolution to hurry up the zoning process, that’s out. All that’s left are these letters of intent and they’re not binding. It’s more of a political statement.”

Bowser is attempting to push the homeless shelter package through as emergency legislation, exempting it from usual oversight. In the wake of fierce community opposition the Council, which initially looked poised to support her plan, is less certain.

“I’m just not satisfied with what’s in there,” Cheh said. “When you kind of pare it down, I think we have to go back to the drawing board. I believe that our ward [Ward 3] is quite willing to accept its share, its responsibility for helping people who are temporarily homeless and to have a shelter in Ward 3. Exactly what that means still has to be worked out.”

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