Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Mission Unaccomplished?

The Gales School, 65 Massachusetts Ave NW. Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

Three weeks short of one year ago today, Mayor Fenty closed the Franklin School, which was being used as a shelter for over 300 homeless men downtown. The Franklin School needed to close and - given its design, need for renovation, and size - the city should never have turned the building into a homeless warehouse in the first place. Moreover, it was an emergency shelter that was serving as a permanent home for hundreds of people.

When the Mayor closed the Franklin Shelter, it was part of a plan that included: (1) moving 400 of the chronically homeless into permanent housing with extensive support services through the Housing First initiative within 6 months; and (2) moving the Central Union Mission from its long-time home in Logan Circle at 14th and R Streets NW to a renovated Gales School at 65 Massachusetts Avenue NW. The new location, sitting between Mount Vernon, Chinatown, and Union Station, would provide emergency shelter for the temporarily homeless, those who find themselves without a place to stay due to a sudden calamity. It would include 125 downtown beds for homeless men. Ultimately, the city's long-term "Homeless No More Plan" aspires to provide 2,500 units of permanent supportive housing financed by a Housing First Fund.

According to an October 1, 2008 news release, Mayor Fenty met his 6 month goal of providing permanent homes for 400 chronically homeless -- in fact -- he claimed credit for surpassing 600, including 305 men, as well as 215 families, 75 men and an additional 12 individuals who were moved from a median strip along I-395.

But what of the Gales School? Workers overlooking the building report that other than seeing a few workers sweeping up around the property, there has been no work for several months. The city is to pay $7 million to renovate the building, which will then be owned and operated without subsidy by the Central Union Mission. (You can read the history of this building, up until 2004, here)

According to David Treadwell, Executive Director of the Central Union Mission, the city has not entered a contract on the redevelopment of the school, which is basically a vacant shell. The Central Union Mission now anticipates that they will move into the Gales School no sooner than fall 2011, though the new facility was tentatively scheduled to open in 2009.

Did a lawsuit delay the project? Financing issues? Lack of will?

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