Troubled DC General Homeless Shelter Closed After Years of Planning

Eight new shelters are scheduled to replace D.C. General, but most have not yet opened

What to Know

  • Mayor Muriel Bowser padlocked and officially closed the D.C. General Homeless Shelter.
  • The shelter housed up to 250 families at a time but was also notorious for the 2014 disappearance of 8-year-old Relisha Rudd.
  • Eight new shelters across each ward are scheduled to replace D.C. General, but not all are open.

The D.C. General homeless shelter was closed Tuesday after a decade of housing hundreds of families in need, sometimes in questionable or downright dangerous conditions. 

Mayor Muriel Bowser chained and padlocked the front doors shut.

Bowser said the city's plan to open eight new shelters in each ward will be safer for children. 

"We want families who are experiencing emergencies to have a safe place to land," the mayor said.

About 170 families lived in the building as recently as the summer. They were moved to permanent housing or temporary hotel housing. The last four families moved out Monday.

Most of the new, planned shelters were not open when D.C. General's doors were padlocked. Shelters have opened in wards 2 and 4. Three shelters are scheduled to open in summer 2019, and one is slated to open in spring 2020. Each new facility is meant to house about 50 families at a time in private rooms.

The D.C. Council voted in 2016 to close the notorious shelter located in the old D.C. General Hospital. The building was constructed in 1922 and operated as the District’s sole public hospital until 2001.

D.C. General housed as many as 250 families at a time. Residents were subject to dilapidated conditions, mold, rodents and overcrowding. In 2015, two children tested positive for elevated lead levels.

In 2014, the shelter made headlines after 8-year-old Relisha Rudd, who was living with her mother at D.C. General, disappeared. She was last seen with a janitor who worked there. He later committed suicide.

Rudd's 13th birthday passed on Oct. 29. She has not been found, and a review of her case led to two dozen policy changes on matters including background checks for shelter employees.

"We don’t want to lose another child," Bowser said after wrapping heavy chains around the front doors.

Bowser 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 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 at the time. 

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

Up to 400 children lived in D.C. General at any time, sometimes living there for months or years. 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.

Melson said her time there inspired her to study social justice. She wants to go to medical school next. 

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

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

The building is set to be demolished for the development of the Hill East District, intended to be a mixed-use area with waterfront access. It was one of four areas proposed to Amazon by D.C. for a second headquarters for the company.

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