Plan Advances to Close DC General – What’s Next for Playtime?
On May 31st, the DC Council unanimously passed a homeless shelter plan designed to close the DC General Emergency Family Shelter, and to instead shelter families in a network of smaller temporary housing sites scattered throughout most of DC’s 8 wards. The newly-passed bill is a significantly modified version of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s original plan and is hailed as a victory by homeless and child advocates. Most notably, the new plan includes different locations for the sites in wards 3, 5, and 6 to city-owned land and sites in Wards 1 and 4 are to be purchased rather than leased.
The new system just approved by the Council, “will be a huge reflection on not only what this will mean for DC families currently experiencing homelessness but what it can mean for those who may experience homelessness in the future,” says Jennifer Speight, who along with her daughter spent three years experiencing homelessness – two of those years were spent at DC General. For Speight, closing DC General is “about bringing some type of normalcy, routine to those most greatly affected by homelessness.”
The DC Department of General Services is currently estimating that DC General will close sometime in 2019 or 2020, with the new temporary housing sites coming online sometime before that. That means there will be a need for Playtime at DC General for at least the next 3-4 years. In the meantime, Playtime is moving forward with conversations with public officials to ensure that we are able to provide our services in the new neighborhood-based sites. We are hopeful that the closure of DC General will represent an expansion of Playtime operations to smaller shelters across the city. It is especially important now to advocate for qualified providers to run the new sites who will offer more service-rich environments to provide families with the supports they need to escape homelessness. At the same time, we must raise awareness about the long-term solutions that are needed to end family homelessness in our city.
Most families experiencing homelessness in our city don’t live at DC General; instead, they’re housed in a series of motels in DC and Maryland. The approximately 1,300 children living in these motels are not accounted for in the plans currently moving forward. In the months and years to come, Playtime will be helping to ensure that children living at these often forgotten sites have access to safe, trauma-informed play opportunities.
The ultimate goal for all of us should be to end family homelessness once and for all. That’s going to take a city-wide commitment, but we know what it takes to get there. In order to end homelessness in the long-term, we must address the housing crisis that has forced so many DC families out of their homes. This means ensuring truly affordable housing for everyone who needs it. We share the Mayor and City Council’s goal to make homelessness “rare, brief, and non-recurring.” It’s time to back it up with the long-term investments to make it happen.
Are you ready to advocate for affordable housing and safe, dignified conditions for all DC children? Sign up to join the Playtime Advocacy Team, and watch for alerts this summer for how you can get involved!