DC Putting Shelter Closures and Public Housing Demolition on Fast Track


DC Government is putting the closures of multiple homeless shelters on the fast track. As a man of reason, I understand that shelter is meant to be a stepping stone and not a landing pad. Shelter residents usually have permanent, safe, affordable housing as a goal. However, that goal often remains out of reach for Washington, DC's 8,000 homeless and counting as well as the 70,000 who are on the wait list at the DC Housing Authority with DCHA housing approximately 800 to 1,000 people (about 200 families) per year.

Not only is the shelter which the homeless want to get out of being closed; but, the public housing which they seek to move into is being demolished. In either case, the government's argument is the same: “The building was unfit for human habitation”. Oh how sweet! They care too much about the poor to allow them to remain in a dilapidated building; so, they close down the shelter or public housing complex, only to put the residents into hotels, motels or housing situations that are even more tenuous than the ones they just left.

This is the argument used by former DC mayor Adrian Fenty as he closed the DC Village Family Shelter in 2007 as well as the Franklin School Shelter in 2008. It is presently being used to justify the closure of the DC General Family shelter and could soon be used to expedite the closure of the CCNV (Community for Creative Non-Violence) Shelter. It is also being used to close and demolish the Barry Farm Public housing Complex.

I was recently a guest on the Kojo Nnamdi Show along with DC Chief of Police Cathy Lanier. She explained that she thought that public housing was the worst thing to happen to poor people insomuch as it is poorly maintained. I responded by telling her that government officials have become the new “red-liners” who disinvest in poor communities. The difference though is that, unlike when banks were the red-liners, it is the government's duty to maintain these very properties that are falling into disrepair.

The government establishes shelters for the homeless. Bitter-sweet. The government builds public housing for the homeless to move into. Great. The government allows shelters and public housing to fall into disrepair. Horrible. The government declares the shelter and public housing to be unfit for human habitation. So compassionate. This is a behavioral pattern that I refer to as “the facade of caring”. Additionally, DC Government is presenting its negatives as positives by “caring” enough to remove poor people from a building that was neglected by the very government that moved people into that building in the first place.

This is reminiscent of how DC Government patted itself on the back for housing Denise Gibson and her 10-month old baby in December 2011 only to be exposed by a response article in the Huffington Post as the reason for Denise's homelessness in the first place. It seems like DC Government's MO is: Create a problem; solve the problem; get credit for the latter only (unless someone who's paying attention exposes you).

A certain Robert Samuels a writer for the Washington Post recently covered the bad and worsening conditions at the DC General Family Shelter. I don't doubt for a minute that conditions are as bad as residents say they are. Neither do I disagree with the assertion that the building should be closed and demolished. However, other WashPo writers have enough guts and gall to place the blame for the disrepair where it belongs – right in the lap of DC Government. Mr. Samuels wasn't so analytical or brutally honest.

Mr. Samuels also wrote about the fact that the 1,350-bed CCNV/Federal City Shelter recently failed a fire safety inspection. I wondered how they could fail, being that I often hear the alarm sound so loudly and annoyingly that I swear I've seen a dead person or two awakened by it. I can't speak to the operation of the sprinkler system, as I've never seen it in operation. Nonetheless, the article lacked some important facts. It quotes Councilman Jim Graham as saying that conditions in the building are “deplorable”; but, it fails to mention that different parts of the building are currently under renovation. (Much of the Franklin School Shelter was renovated shortly before the September 2008 closure.) Neither did it mention the fact that the CCNV Task Florce which is headed by Councilman Graham has been meeting since October 2013, will dissolve in July 2014 and will offer recommendations to the mayor and the full council as to what should be done with the people and property when the congressional mandate to serve the homeless from this building expires on July 7, 2016.

You might want to know why I'm airing my dirty laundry concerning a presumably new writer here in my blog. Well, I don't have anything against Robert Samuels personally. But he has already been used by the establishment to convey incomplete and misleading statements and present them as facts. I am therefore using that same public arena called the internet to convey the truth. Maybe every time that an article of his is googled, my blog will also show up in the search. Let's hope.

I was taken aback by the mere fact that a fire alarm system not passing inspection even passes as news. That doesn't make sense until you consider how the “facade of caring” is used by city officials as a pretext for gentrifying the homeless and the poor out of DC. I was perplexed by the fact that DC Government didn't simply add maintaining the fire alarm system to the to-do list of those renovating the shelter. There are other aspects to this situation that don't make sense until you know other facts pertaining to development taking place around the shelter as well as how DC Government “works” (for lack of a better term).

The CCNV Shelter has as its neighbors: Georgetown Law School on the north side; Hyatt hotel on the East side; U.S. Dept. of Labor on its south side and the U.S. Tax Court on its west side. Between CCNV and the tax court is a 50-foot deep ravine containing I-395. Beginning at the southwest corner of the shelter and extending at least 5 blocks to the north and to the west is a ginormous construction project that is expected to take 10 years to finish. When all is said and done, there will be a building over the I-395 ravine, as is the case with U.S DOL even now. The area is being spruced up.

It stands to reason that a draconian mayor who is giving DC to the wealthy and well-to-do on a silver platter would want to remove the homeless from this area ASAP. According to the annual contract, CCNV must be given 220 days to vacate the premises in the case of a contract termination. On the other hand, if the building is deemed an immediate danger, it can be closed immediately. Furthermore, the task force is discussing the construction of 900 apartment units and 350 shelter spaces before CCNV is closed. This construction could take until mid-2017, all things considered. And it would enable the poor to remain in DC. A “caring” mayor could declare the shelter unfit for human habitation, close it within 30(?) days, bypass the task force process, not await the new construction and force over 1,000 homeless people out of DC in one fell swoop. Add to this the fact that the homeless of DC only have a right to shelter when the temperature is 32 and below or 95 and above. Early summer is the perfect time for a building maintenance “emergency”.

In closing I'll say that there have been numerous occasions in which people were moved out of a dilapidated public housing complex, promised the right to return and had that promise broken. There have been various occasions in which shelters have been closed due to being poorly maintained and unfit for human habitation. There have been multiple occasions of DC Government receiving praise for solving a problem that they created. The poor and homeless are being pushed around and gentrified. The broader public is being duped into thinking that DC Government is doing what's best for its most vulnerable citizens. The poor are all the worse for it. We need to quit going for the okie doke – ALL of the okie dokes, that is. The facade of caring is being used to hand the city to the wealthy and well-to-do on a silver platter. Period. Full stop.

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