Construction begins on new Ward 4 shelter

The Petworth shelter will offer short-term housing for 45 families. (rendering courtesy of D.C. government)

Construction formally began last week on Ward 4’s new short-term family housing facility — the first of six new homeless shelters planned across the city to replace the dilapidated D.C. General.

Despite steady rainfall on Thursday morning, crowds gathered at 5505 5th St. NW in Petworth to witness Mayor Muriel Bowser ceremonially break ground on the project. When it opens in fall 2018, the shelter will include 45 family units, 27 bathrooms and laundry facilities, as well as a playground, basketball court and courtyard, according to a news release.

“This is the start of something special,” Bowser said at the event. “I promised you that we had a real commitment in this city to make homelessness rare, non-recurring and brief in the nation’s capital. In a city as prosperous as ours, we can end homelessness in D.C.”

The new shelters include existing buildings that are being repurposed to serve families experiencing homelessness — such as the Ward 4 building — and new construction.

Shelters in wards 7 and 8 are also expected to open in the fall of 2018, while facilities in wards 3, 5 and 6 will open in the summer of 2019, according to a mayoral spokesperson. Several of these facilities faced strong objections from neighbors but ultimately won approval.

D.C. Department of Human Services director Laura Zeilinger, whose agency oversees homelessness prevention, lauded the program. “The mayor has done what many others would never be brave enough to do: Come into communities throughout the city and say, ‘We are going to take care of our families, and it’s going to be part of the community and we are going to be good neighbors while we do it,’” she said.

City officials formally broke ground on the Petworth shelter on July 6. (photo courtesy of D.C. government)

Bowser and Zeilinger also expressed gratitude for community support, advocacy and outreach.

“We have learned a lot about the generosity of our communities,” said Bowser. “We have learned that when we have a shared challenge, it takes a shared commitment and resolve across all eight wards to address those challenges.”

Members of the Washington Interfaith Network — a multi-faith, nonpartisan advocacy and community organizing group that has acted as a liaison between residents of D.C. General and the mayor’s office — were also in attendance.

Felicia Miller, an organizer at the network, praised the mayor’s investments in housing and said the new facilities are the first step toward finding accessible and permanent housing.

“We are so happy she has put forth the money and budget. It was a fight, but I am glad she stuck with it,” Miller told The Current after the event. “The city is changing. It should be inclusive of everyone, not just the wealthy or those that can afford it.”