La Casa to Stay Open During Redevelopment
As the nation’s capital braces for another winter with below freezing temperatures, many of the city’s homeless residents will still be able to turn to La Casa for a place to lay their head.
The shelter in the Columbia Heights neighborhood has seen many overnight tenants since it opened its doors in 1985. And thanks to the efforts of city officials, community outreach workers and many neighborhood residents, La Casa will continue to serve the District’s homeless well into the future.
A board that is overseeing the redevelopment of Columbia Heights approved last month a plan to refurbish the parcel of land where La Casa is located. The plan would transform the humble building and trailers that now house 130 homeless residents on a given night into a multi-story facility that will continue to offer overnight stays and treatment facilities to the homeless. In its new incarnation, La Casa will also provide what is known as “single resident occupancy,” or transitional apartments that will allow some residents to stay longer than a night if they agree not to drink, use drugs or possess firearms.
Many of the details regarding the shelter, however, must be negotiated between the National Capital Revitalization Corporation (NCRC) and the city, which will take possession from NCRC the lot on which La Casa is located. Once that occurs, city officials can begin meeting with potential architects to design a new building and consider such issues as the shelter’s size and occupancy levels, said Lynn French, senior policy advisor Deputy Mayor Carolyn Graham.
French said the newly built facility would continue to provide the same offerings to the homeless population in an improved, comprehensive facility.
Councilman Jim Graham, a longtime proponent of La Casa whose ward includes Columbia
Heights, hailed the thorough response to serving the city’s homeless population. Graham has been committed to keeping La Casa where it is, rather than relocating it as some have suggested during redevelopment talks.
“Others and I want a place at the table” for Columbia Heights’ homeless population, Graham said during a recent interview. “But for the grace of God, they could be any one of us. There are many other places in America where they would have just closed this shelter. But I’m proud of what we’ve done here.”
Graham credits residents, developers and homeless advocates for fighting to rebuild La Casa alongside new retail and mixed-use residential space near the Columbia Heights Metro Station. This development would include 235 apartments and 22 condominiums that NCRC has proposed for the neighborhood, and of these residential units, 20% would be earmarked as affordable housing.
Once La Casa is rebuilt, Graham predicts that the “state-of-the art facility” will serve as a model for other homeless facilities in the city.
La Casa will remain open this winter for the duration of the hypothermia season, French said. But she said that developers may need to work on the La Casa site as soon as the season is over.
“Part of the challenge will be to find a temporary location during the reconstruction,” French said, noting that the city hopes to relocate La Casa’s trailers to a nearby location. The relocation of the trailers that now serve as the shelter, however, would depend on what land is available.
Developers predict that they will break ground on the Columbia Heights Metro Station redevelopment project in fall 2004, said Peggy Armstrong, a spokesperson for the RLA Revitalization Corporation and its parent corporation, NCRC. NCRC is responsible for the economic development of several D.C. neighborhoods.