Eaton Elementary parents wary over shelter’s impact

Eaton Elementary School is located at 3301 Lowell St. NW. (Brian Kapur/The Current/June 2017)

Parents at Eaton Elementary remain concerned that a new family homeless shelter will overwhelm their already crowded school, but Eaton’s principal said the school can handle it.

The city is planning to construct short-term housing at 3320 Idaho Ave. NW, part of a citywide effort to replace the dilapidated D.C. General, and school-aged children there would be within Eaton’s boundary during the school year of their stay. City officials attended a community meeting on the issue last Tuesday, where many parents expressed fears that the school would not be able to provide adequate special services to children of homeless families. Others worried it might be difficult to mesh residents experiencing homelessness with the school community.

Eaton principal Dale Mann said the school could use additional support staff or training from D.C. Public Schools to address any special needs, such as mental or financial, of students from homeless families. He also echoed concerns of overcrowding, saying that some classes currently reach 27 students, which makes him “uneasy.”

However, in a brief interview after the meeting, he said he’s confident the school will be able to handle matters.

“I don’t think we’re concerned,” Mann said, adding: “We want the kids to be comfortable and feel welcome.”

The 50-unit, six-story family shelter won approval from the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment in April. At the meeting, Laura Zeilinger, director of the Department of Human Services, said that the hope is for families to spend under 90 days at the shelters before moving onto more permanent housing.

The proposed family shelter would sit adjacent to the 2nd District Police Headquarters at 3320 Idaho Ave. NW. (Rendering courtesy of D.C. government)

The location of the shelter in Ward 3 was chosen by the D.C. Council, which rejected an alternative location proposed by Mayor Muriel Bowser, and some residents at the meeting were still upset at the site selection process. Part of the meeting’s discussion centered on the shelter’s location — also the topic of considerable debate during the zoning process, and of a failed community lawsuit.

“There is a dose of skepticism if this is going to work,” David Isaacs, a former Eaton parent, said at the meeting. “We haven’t had the chance to make these points until now.”

Zeilinger defended the city’s public outreach, saying that “there has been a very robust public process.”

“There is an imperative to provide an alternative to D.C. General,” she added.

According to city data, Eaton enrolled 478 students in the 2015-16 school year, of whom 50 percent were out-of-boundary and 14 percent qualified for free or reduced-price lunches. Ward 3 D.C. Council member Mary Cheh said at the meeting that she secured funding for a planned renovation and expansion of Eaton to begin in the 2018 fiscal year to be ready for the shelter’s opening, which is projected for 2019. However, the Bowser administration has raised concerns about the logistics of moving forward with the work at Eaton so quickly.