New shelters for homeless D.C. families will be opened in every ward of the district, Mayor Muriel Bowser said during a D.C. Council breakfast Monday.
Bowser said she knows building new homeless shelters will be "a difficult conversation," and Ward 5 Council member Kenyan McDuffie said some residents are "on edge" about the locations of new homeless shelters.
Earler this month, District officials voted to close the notorious shelter located in the old D.C. General hospital.
Bowser said the new shelters will provide a safer environment than the old hospital, where an 8-year-old girl, Relisha Rudd, disappeared more than a year ago. Rudd was last seen March 1, 2014, on surveillance video at a D.C. motel with a janitor from the shelter. He later committed suicide.
Opponents have said they're against the smaller shelters because they lack private bathrooms. Parents cite concerns for children potentially sharing a bathroom with adults.
More than 700 homeless families, including more than 1,000 children, live in the district's shelter system. As of last week, 267 families were still living at D.C. General and its associated properties. Another 367 families were living in motels and another 103 families were living in temporary shelters.
The new shelters will house about 50 families each.
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Residents are supportive overall, Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh said, but some expressed concern about which schools the children will attend.
Council member Charles Allen said his Ward 6 has more homeless shelters than any other part of the city and the issue of where the children go to school hasn’t been a problem.
“Most of the children at D.C. General go to school in Ward 6, and I find neighbors have a big heart and want to make sure the city is looking out for these families,” he said.
“Children of homeless families should be able to go to the nearest school, their original school or whatever school makes the most sense, and that’s probably what’s going to happen,” Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said.
Cheh added that political boundaries shouldn’t be a factor in solving the district’s homeless crisis.
Bowser plans to announce the locations of the shelters before the end of the year and then begin meeting with residents to hear their concerns.
The city is also working to close down tent cities in which homeless people have been camping. Authorities are referring those people to shelters, and Bowser's administration has placed several of them in shelters or permanent housing.
One tent city near the Kennedy Center was cleared last week. However, despite being told to leave tent encampments, several people have remained in tents.
Bowser said Monday the city is still trying to clear the tent cities.
"Our intent is there will be no more new tents," Bowser said.
"I get constant complaints" about the tents, Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans said, asking whether there was any possibility of fencing off an area along Rock Creek Parkway where a tent city sprouted.
Bowser said her administration is considering adding more fencing along the parkway to restrict access.
D.C.'s deputy mayor for Health and Human Services said the tents are "a persistent problem," saying authorities will "continue engagement to get individuals to move on."
Evans also asked about the homeless presence at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library downtown. "It feels very dangerous on that block," he said.
Bowser responded that she's looking to build a new day center for the homeless.