City Cast

The New Foggy Bottom Shelter Ruffles Feathers

Kaela Cote-Stemmermann
Kaela Cote-Stemmermann
Posted on July 10   |   Updated on July 12
The Aston is located at the green pin in the Foggy Bottom. (Google Maps)

The Aston is located at the green pin in the Foggy Bottom. (Google Maps)

The city is pushing ahead with plans to build a controversial homeless shelter in a former George Washington University dorm. It’s on a block with two hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants and has drawn applause from advocates, but also concerns from neighbors.

Some background:

Seven years ago, Mayor Muriel Bowser promised to build a homeless shelter in every ward, but Ward 2 never got one. Last year, GW put a dorm up for sale, and the Department of Human Services jumped at it in hopes of completing the Mayor’s goal.

Why is this shelter so important?

This 200-person facility will be the first of its kind in the District. It will house residents separately rather than in a bunk room, which is especially important for the medically vulnerable. It would also allow adult families (like couples or siblings) to remain together, the absence of which is a huge reason people stay in encampments.

What’s the controversy?

Most residents agree that shelters are needed, but they disagree on where exactly they should be. Advocates say wealthy neighborhoods shouldn’t be exempted from supporting unhoused communities. However, some residents worry the shelter would disrupt fancy nearby businesses and harm tourism.

To address this, DHS has committed to 24/7 security inside and outside the building, limited initial capacity, and continued community engagement before and after the facility opens.

One thing I heard repeatedly in the first ANC meeting is ‘I support the homeless’, but that was followed by ‘why here?’, ‘Why now?’ ‘Can this be delayed?’ ‘Could it go somewhere else?’Michael Brice-Saddler, Reporter, Washington Post

What happens now?

The Department of Human Services wants to start renovations next month and hopes to open the facilities to residents this fall.

Our podcast City Cast DC covered more about how the shelter's going to work.

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