On Feb. 11, 2016, I attended Mayor Bowser’s community meeting for Southwest regarding her decision to close DC General and build short-term housing in each of the city’s eight wards. The location for one of those shelters is proposed to be located behind the Blind Whino Arts Center near the old Randall school. Every seat in the multipurpose room at the Friendship Baptist Church was taken and the event became standing room only for those who came late. The meeting became contentious as residents openly expressed concerns about the strain on already limited local resources within SW, such as schools, transportation, and public safety—specifically on the potential for increased crime, assaults, robberies, burglaries, etc.
The mayor spoke briefly about the need for the temporary shelters, in that homeless persons deserve to live in a clean and safe place while in search for a permanent home. Residents were extremely frustrated that they were not included in the mayor’s shelter location plan. Some accused the mayor of conducting back-door deals and not caring about this neighborhood. This sentiment led to someone inquiring about the DC Housing Authority (DCHA) and their role in this, to which the mayor responded by saying that the DCHA is working to help locate permanent housing for those who are currently homeless.
The mayor and her representatives explained that there will be social services available on-site to assist families in improving their lives. That led to people saying there are enough public housing spaces in the community that are not receiving such an outpouring of services and asked her what she is going to do about that. Her response was that the DCHA has jurisdiction for addressing that concern and that unfortunately, there was not a DCHA representative in the audience to speak further on the subject.
Only a few attendees expressed support for the mayor’s plan, specifically representatives from the Interfaith Housing Coalition and maybe two others, but others expressed the feeling that, yes, we understand short-term housing for the homeless is needed, but NIMBY (not in my backyard).