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New D.C. General replacement shelter to début in Northwest this month

The shelter will be located in Brightwood Park and house 45 families

A rendering of the Ward 4 shelter
D.C. government

On Sept. 26, District officials will cut the ribbon on the first new family homeless shelter to open as a replacement for the derelict D.C. General shelter, which is slated to close this fall.

Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration announced the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the 45-unit facility being finished at 5505 Fifth St. NW, in Brightwood Park, in a release last Friday. The new shelter will provide various services to the families who stay there—including case management and housing and job assistance—and is located on land that the District owns.

As part of the overall plan to close D.C. General, the shelter is designated for Ward 4, which covers the northernmost part of the District. A new shelter will have opened in each of the District’s eight wards under the plan. The next two shelters scheduled to début this fall are located in Wards 7 and 8, which cover Southeast, although they have recently seen delays.

Long neglected and considered unsafe, the former D.C. General hospital has been winding down its operations as a shelter since May. At its height, it hosted more than 250 homeless families in terrible conditions that ranged from rats and bedbugs to harassment and a lack of security. D.C. General began housing families in 2001. It is the city’s largest family shelter.

As of last Friday, 88 families remained at D.C. General, according to Bowser’s administration. Officials have been helping the shelter’s residents move to subsidized apartments or other accommodations. Per data from the D.C. Department of Human Services, on Aug. 24, 70 of the 93 families that were living at D.C. General had “clear exit paths” like lease-ups planned.

But over the summer, advocates for the homeless have criticized the District for proceeding with demolition on the D.C. General campus while families continue to reside at the shelter. They say the work could jeopardize the health and safety of those families, and that officials should wait until all the families relocate before preparing to knock down nearby buildings.

In July, outside of Bowser’s home, a group of advocates protested against the demolition as planned, knocking down a mock building and tossing flour meant to symbolize unsafe dust into the air while wearing construction vests and helmets. A little more than week later, the District paused exterior demolition work on a vacant building on the D.C. General campus after inspectors turned up significant amounts of lead in the soil surrounding that building.

Officials say it is now safe to advance the demolition activity. But last Friday, the advocates staged another protest against the plans, this time outside of Bowser’s office. They showed up with a web of safety masks designed to represent the remaining D.C. General families as well as someone wearing a grim reaper costume, and chanted in a Wilson Building hallway. (The mayor’s aides did not respond to Curbed DC’s request for comment about the protest.)

The rest of the shelters intended to replace D.C. General will not open until next year or—in one case—2020, according to officials. The District is currently searching for contractors to provide maintenance services at the first of the shelters slated to open, in Wards 4, 7, and 8.