DC Residents Loudly Contest Mayor Bowser Homeless Shelter Plan

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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District residents sharply rebuked the mayor at recent community meetings across the city over the administration’s plan to close D.C. General Hospital and replace the homeless facility with new shelters in each ward, alleging the proposal ignores citizen input, lacks transparency and is unnecessarily costly.

“The meeting at Stoddert Elementary was a distraction from the real issue — greedy, corrupt people taking advantage of poor people experiencing homelessness,” Marie-Louise Murville, a Ward 3 resident told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “It’s a shell game, not a shelter plan.”

Mayor Muriel Bowser is attempting to pass emergency legislation through the D.C. Council to close D.C. General Hospital, which currently serves as a massive homeless shelter. Bowser says the dilapidated building, which most agree needs reform, must be closed and replaced with more dignified housing. The sites she’s chosen for the new shelters in each ward are nonnegotiable, which Bowser says is necessary to meet her timetable of closing D.C. General by 2018.

Residents are criticizing the mayor over the 30 year, $660 million plan, noting it will benefit a number of high profile donors to Bowser’s mayoral campaign. The proposal includes lucrative lease for the five corporations involved in each site’s development. Three of the corporations benefiting from the plan are tied to Douglas Jemal, Bryan Irving and Suman Sorg, top donors to Bowser.

The government is also ceding ownership of the sites to the developers, who can sell the properties after the leases expire. The total value of the sites is currently estimated at $14.5 million, however the proposal could spike their value by as much as 10 times to roughly $147 million. (RELATED: DC Mayor’s Donors Stand To Profit From Hotly Contested Shelter Plan)

Ward 3 residents addressed these and other concerns during a meeting at Stoddert Elementary Tuesday hosted by the mayor’s office. Fed up residents said the mayor was ignoring their voice, and the majority of attendees walked out of the meeting in the middle of the question and answer session.

In Ward 6, residents reacted similarly, questioning the logic of the proposed shelter’s location next to an active arts center in the community. The Blind Whino operates out of the Friendship Baptist Church, hosting regular art workshops. The historic church is also rented out for parties and charities, which regularly feature alcohol. Residents say they worry about putting at-risk families next to the arts center, reports The Washington Times.

“These are often not family-focused events,” Stacy Cloyd, a member of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission in Ward 6 told The Washington Times. “They go until late at night, they have amplified music, serve alcohol. If a shelter were built at the proposed location, it would be a bad deal for the District and it would not serve families well.”

Local Ward 6 citizens also raised concerns over the shelter’s design at the current site. The proposed seven story shelter will be on land not currently zoned for a building of that size, which residents argue could be a hazard in an emergency.

Ward 6 residents say they are not opposed to lending a helping hand to the homeless. Residents in both Ward 3 and Ward 6 say a key issue for them are dignified facilities for the homeless, such as giving each family access to a private bathroom, which the shelter plan currently does not.

“Any plan that does not include a private bathroom for every family is a non-starter and an insult,” Murville, who testified at a March 17 hearing by the D.C. Council on the issue told TheDCNF. “Today the city spends over $53,000 annually per homeless unit ($150 a day) … not including private bathrooms or kitchens or transportation to schools and jobs.”

The neighborhood in Ward 3 where Bowser proposes a shelter site already supports two community, privately funded shelters. One is St. Luke’s, a homeless shelter for men, and the other is Community of Christ Church, a women’s hypothermia center.

In 2010 Bowser said asking a group of resident’s to support multiple homeless shelters was unreasonable. At the time Bowser suggested the District government had the tools needed to restore D.C. General, saying it’s “a campus that, given the resources could accommodate these people.”

“How could a government agency ask people in a two-block radius to support three homeless shelters,” Bowser said in 2010 as a Council member for Ward 4.

The mayor’s office originally estimated the cost at roughly $300 million over 30 year. Estimates for Ward 3 say the new plan will cost roughly $108,063 per unit per year. The cost to the city will average roughly $9,005 per unit per month for dormitory style apartments that have no kitchen or additional amenities.

The D.C. Department of Human Services estimates additional annual costs at $2.1 million. The mayor strongly disagrees with these price estimates. (RELATED: DC Residents In Revolt Over Mayor’s Plan To Put Homeless In $100,000 Units Next Door)

Ward 5 residents continue to push back over the proposed site in their community as well, which they say puts homeless families in the middle of an industrial, non-residential area with a waste treatment facility and strip club. Citizens in the ward argue placing a shelter in such an area will be doing a disservice to homeless families, placing them far away from needed amenities.

The Council originally expected to hold a vote on the proposal on April 19. Council members are now suggesting the vote could be pushed back, as the Council takes a closer review of cost estimates. Bowser says her plan must pass as is, or the city will not be able to close down the derelict D.C. General homeless shelter.

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