Muriel Bowser

DC General Homeless Shelter to Close This Year, Mayor Says

A Georgetown University student who lived at the shelter for two and a half years spoke about her time there

The homeless shelter in the dilapidated former D.C. General hospital building will close by the end of the 2018, Mayor Muriel Bowser said Monday.

The 242 families that live in the shelter, including more than 400 children, will gradually be moved to permanent housing or short-term shelters spread across the city.

“We know we can and must do better than D.C. General, and with the new, smaller short-term family housing, we will be able to get more of our most vulnerable families connected to the services they need to get back on their feet and into permanent housing," Bowser said in a statement.

The city expects that D.C. General can be closed this fall.

In May 2016, members of the D.C. Council approved a plan to close the shelter and open smaller shelters on city-owned land in each of the city's eight wards.

D.C. General became a political lightning rod for former Mayor Tony Williams, who closed the hospital in 2001. Then, in 2010, D.C. began using it to house homeless families.

Georgetown University junior Rashema Melson lived at D.C. General for two and a half years, sharing a crowded room with her mother and two brothers.

She said she thinks of the shelter when she hears her college friends complain about living in cramped dorm rooms.

"People say, 'Oh, these rooms are so small.' And it's like, for a long time, I've lived like this. Or we lived in abandoned houses. It's like, you should be lucky to go home and have your own room, your own bed," she said. "I think people take those things for granted."

Bowser previously said the new shelters would be safer than D.C. General. Eight-year-old Relisha Rudd disappeared from the shelter in March 2014. She was last seen with a janitor who worked there. He later committed suicide.

Bowser had originally proposed closing D.C. General and building shelters on privately owned land. The Council changed the plan in favor of building the shelters on publicly owned land, which D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said could save taxpayers more than $100 million.

The change led to a heated battle in which the mayor cursed at Mendelson, WAMU reporter Martin Austermuhle reported.

"You're a f---ing liar! You know it can't close in [2018]!" the mayor shouted, a tweet by Austermuhle said.

Melson, the Georgetown student who lived in the shelter, said her time there inspired her to study social justice. Next, she wants to go to medical school.

"I really want to give back and help the community and be a voice to the people," she said.

She's not the only one in her family who found success living at D.C. General; her brother just received a football scholarship to Syracuse University.

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