A new homeless shelter for single men, part of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s proposed $120 million budget to fight homelessness, is under construction in D.C., and some of the men building it currently live in the old one.
Robert Miller stays in a shelter on the St. Elizabeths campus in Southeast, along with nearly 800 other men. Right next door, he and six others experiencing homelessness report to work building the new shelter.
"It means a whole lot to me,” Miller said. “It means a whole lot to other people because I know a lot of people can get a lot of chances [from this].”
The director of the District’s department of human services, Laura Zeilinger, was on hand Tuesday to celebrate Miller and his coworkers’ completion of a training program that will enable them to continue working on this and future construction projects in D.C.
"I absolutely want to thank you for your service. Not only are you acquiring new skills and you’re contributing, but I know that this is the beginning of a pathway for you out of homelessness,” Zeilinger said.
When the shelter is completed this November, it will have 364 beds and wraparound services like health care and employment counseling. Miller and the six other men who built it will still have jobs working on other projects coming to the development.
"I dare anyone -- you come out here and get on this job,” he said. “You’re gonna show other people that it can work. That’s why I’m standing right here, because I know it works.”
While D.C. has recently built several new shelters for families, this is the first time a new shelter has ever been built specifically for single adults.
In the past, the District simply repurposed vacant space. The last time a new shelter opened in the area was in the 1980s.
Miller said he’s happy to have a job and proud to be part of the building crew.
"It makes me feel good that someone don’t have to sleep on the outside,” he said.
Zeilinger explained that the plan is also to replace more shelters.
"There is funding to replace the New York Avenue Shelter,” she said. “There is also capital budget to replace the Harriet Tubman shelter for women.”
Miller, meanwhile, is enthusiastic about his job and future.
“It’s fun,” he said. “You’re gonna make some money, you’re gonna have a job, you’re not going to be homeless no more.”