a photo of rountable discussion to determine the fate of DC General
Manuela Mejia

At an Oct. 14 roundtable discussion held at the city’s troubled family shelter at DC General Hospital, DC City Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), stressed his belief that the facility should be shut down.

Yet the council member also expressed concern about a multimillion dollar plan released by the administration of Mayor Vincent Gray an hour before the hearing that calls for the replacement of the 288-unit family shelter with smaller facilities located across the city.

The plan lays out two different scenarios for replacing DC General. Under one, the city would spend up to $24.9 million a year to lease six buildings with between 40 and 50 units each. Under the other, the city would pay $48 million to purchase six similar sized buildings. Annual operating costs would range from $3 million to more than $4 million per building.

“The District is committed to closing the DC General Family Shelter at the earliest possible time,” the Gray administration noted in the plan. “The Plan recommends a one-to-one replacement of the number of units currently provided at the DC General Family Shelter be available in other, more appropriate facilities before closure.”

Under both scenarios, the facilities serving as community based shelters would be located in neighborhoods throughout the city.

“We need all eight wards to participate,” testified Brian Hanlon director of the city Department of General Services during the discussion. The plan calls for the opening of the new facilities before Nov. 1 2015.

Graham, who chairs the council’s human services committee, expressed bewilderment that he had not been shown the DC General Family Shelter Replacement Plan in advance. The council member questioned the usefulness of the plan, arguing that the closure of the DC General would not realistically take place by fall of 2015. Mayor Gray lost the Democratic primary in his bid for reelection and Graham predicted that funding sources are likely to change when the current mayor’s successor is sworn in this coming January.

Witnesses, including shelter residents who spoke at the roundtable testified about the difficulties of finding affordable housing in the city as well as the stress of living at the crowded and crumbling former hospital.