Mayor Bowser Reaches Out To Community On Homeless Shelter Plan, Leaves Everyone Confused

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Mayor Muriel Bowser made a rare appearance Thursday at a recent community gathering in the District’s Ward 3 to discuss her controversial homeless shelter plan, engaging with citizens but offering little detail or clarity on the proposal’s future.

The meeting at Stoddert Elementary hosted by Ward 3’s ANC3B community group covered a number of topics, including the mayor’s push for an increase in the minimum wage. Attention quickly shifted to the contentious shelter plan, with residents demanding answers to the increasingly confusing process surrounding the $660 million proposal.

Bowser is still trying to push her proposal through as an emergency legislation package to meet a 2018 deadline to close D.C. General Hospital, which currently serves as the city’s only homeless shelter. Bowser wants to close D.C. General and replace it with new shelters in each ward of the city. D.C. Council President Phil Mendelson said May 6 he was changing the proposal and examining various alternate sites already owned by the government — a move that reportedly caught the Bowser administration by surprise. (RELATED: DC Council Deals Major Blow To Mayor Bowser’s Homeless Shelter Plan)

“They really thought this would fly under the radar,” Anita Crabtree, a Ward 3 resident who attended the meeting told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “She seemed a little bit nervous at the beginning, and slowly waded into the homeless shelter issue.”

Resident attendees said the gathering was civil and Bowser took time to answer questions, though they said her answers provided little clarity. Residents’ primary concern in Ward 3 is the current site chosen by the mayor violates zoning laws. Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh sent a letter to the D.C. Department of General Services proposing three alternate sites which conform to current zoning laws. (RELATED: DC Mayor’s Donors Stand To Profit From Hotly Contested Shelter Plan)

“I remain concerned about the selected site … and I believe that a fair assessment of other feasible sites in Ward 3 by the Department of General Services and the Department of Human Services should be undertaken,” Cheh said in the letter. “In particular, three specific site suggestions have been repeatedly raised by the community as potentially viable sites – both operationally and economically – for the short term family housing facility.”

Attendees pressed the mayor on why she refuses to entertain alternate shelter locations. Bowser said she is open to viable alternatives, but some attendees said those words rang hollow. Bowser openly admitted she had not really looked at Council member Cheh’s letter outlining in detail possible alternatives. The mayor promised to give Cheh’s proposal a thorough review and share her thoughts with the community. (RELATED: DC Residents In Revolt Over Mayor’s Plan To Put Homeless In $100,000 Units Next Door)

Bowser is running a value analysis of potential savings from using private versus public land for the shelter sites. While residents appreciated Bowser’s willingness to listen, the meeting left many questions unanswered. Confusion remains over whether Bowser will still attempt to push forward with her plan unchanged, and how Mendelson’s reworking of the plan will impact its future and the timeline to close D.C. General.

Bowser’s responses left many wondering whether she genuinely is behind her plan, or simply using it as a political tool.

“A lot of us got the sense that she doesn’t really care about this, it’s not a priority of her’s,” Crabtree told TheDCNF. “If she really wanted it to go through easily, she would have gone about this in a less controversial manner. She wouldn’t be trying to put these facilities in areas she knows are going to get litigated.”

Council President Mendelson is expected to hold a vote on a shelter package in June, but details of what the package will include remain unknown.

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