A homeless shelter that has been a staple in the Old Town section of Alexandria for three decades is getting ready for a big move -- but it's only temporary.
Carpenter's Shelter will leave its location at 930 N. Henry Street next month and move into the former Macy's at the now-shuttered Landmark Mall.
The once-iconic mall has been slated for redevelopment for years, but there have been delays in getting the project going. In the meantime, Carpenter's Shelter worked with the Howard Hughes Corporation, the owners of the property, to use the empty space on Duke Street temporarily.
But what does it take to turn a department store into a place where people can live?
Turns out, a lot of coordination.
"It's been an interesting challenge, in and of itself," Executive Director Shannon Steene smiled.
Construction crews have been working since March to convert 16,000 square feet on the second floor of the Macy's building into a space that can serve the more than 600 homeless and formerly homeless children and adults whom Carpenter's Shelter sees each year.
The space, which once housed clothing and jewelry displays, will have six family rooms, four rooms for single men and two rooms for single women. The Landmark location will also include David's Place, a day shelter for the chronically homeless, as well as showers, laundry facilities, a medical clinic and all the year-round support services offered at the shelter's N. Henry Street location.
HH Logistics Planning, a project management firm, is helping the shelter anticipate everything it will need to pick up its 24-hour operation and move it all nearly six miles without interruptions.
Steene says the facility's staff has also been working with residents, guests and volunteers to get them ready for the change early next month.
"Any time you have a transition of this scope and of this nature, there's likely to be some anxieties. We've had a special sensitivity for how our residents and those we serve are thinking about this."
Steene says he is concerned about how the change will affect guests, especially the chronically homeless who use services such as Dave's Place during the day.
"We've been such a source of stability for them. If all else fails, they knew that Carpenter's is here, that they could come and access services and support. And we will still be able to provide services and support to them. It'll just be in a different location."
Steene says the shelter has also worked with the city to make sure the people they serve have the transportation they need to get to the shelter and around the city. Some shelter residents have their own cars, but many rely on public transportation.
"There is a bus depot existing at Landmark, so we're going to continue to work with them and make sure people have the ability to get around as best as possible," Steene said.
Residents pay for their own transportation, but the shelter does assist them, as needed. Carpenter's has also arranged to have a daily shuttle for guests who use the day shelter.
The move will allow the shelter to launch its own redevelopment initiative, which will begin with the demolition of its current building.
"In order to take it down, we don't have the ability to go dark for a year and a half," Steene said.
The shelter expects to stay at Landmark for 18 months while its current home is replaced with a 7-story building and underground parking.
"Carpenter's Shelter will be the primary use on the main floor of that building and then above us will be 97 units of affordable housing," Steene said.
Steene says 10 of the 97 units will be set aside as permanent supportive housing units, small efficiency apartments that would be affordable for those who are chronically homeless and living on disability incomes.
As for residents who already call the West End home, Steene says he's encountered two main concerns: whether children moving to the Landmark location will affect the population at neighborhood schools and whether the move will slow the redevelopment of Landmark Mall.
Steene explained homeless children are legally allowed to stay at their home schools, no matter their current address. As for the redevelopment of Landmark Mall, Steene says the shelter will not slow any progress on that project.
The mall closed in February 2017, with Macy's closing its doors a few months later. Sears, which is owned by Seritage, is the only store still open on the property.
The Howard Hughes Corporation has plans to turn the mall into a mixed-use property with apartments, shops and restaurants. According to a page on the City of Alexandria's website, the Howard Hughes Corporation is currently in talks with Seritage about incorporating the Sears site into those plans.
To ensure the shelter does not affect redevelopment plans at the mall, Carpenter's lease at the site will expire in 2019.
"Once they find out it won't affect the redevelopment of Landmark or the population of the schools, they're on board," he said.