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Renovation work pushes back opening of downtown D.C. day center for the homeless

Curbed logo Curbed 1/24/2019 Andrew Giambrone
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District officials had said the center would open before Nov. 1. Now it’s looking more like mid-January

Update, Jan. 23: In a release, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office says the downtown day center for the homeless will open “early next month.” The new date follows months of delays.

Original post, Dec. 12, 2018:

In August, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that a long-hoped-for day center to serve D.C.’s homeless population would open downtown before Nov. 1. That is when hypothermia season—the stretch of months when temperatures tend to become dangerously cold for unsheltered people—officially kicks off in the District. The center would operate on weekdays from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. inside the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church at 1313 New York Ave. NW, and would be managed by the DowntownDC Business Improvement District, or BID.

But more than a month after its expected début, the center remains under construction. The BID, which is overseeing the renovations through a contractor, and the D.C. Department of Human Services say it is now anticipated to open in mid-January. In the meantime, officials have been providing case management services to the homeless, by appointment only, at the Church of the Epiphany at 1317 G St. NW, also located downtown. The planned day center is to offer a range of social services as well as meals, showers, computers, and laundry facilities.

Several organizations, including Pathways to Housing DC and Catholic Charities, continue to furnish a network of outreach and health services to the homeless on downtown streets while the center is being built out, says Neil Albert, the president of the DowntownDC BID. He says workers are reconfiguring the subbasement of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, “a difficult space to work in,” and foresee “substantial completion” of this project by 2018’s end.

“Is it going as fast as I would want it to go? Nothing goes as fast as I want it to go,” explains Albert. “But it’s progressing.” The workers discovered more issues in the subbasement than expected, including asbestos and fortified concrete that are being abated and demolished, respectively, he adds. The church building is decades old and dates back to a 19th century structure. Albert says the unearthing of the site’s issues is “just the nature of construction.”

A “notice of asbestos project” seen on one of the church’s doors last month said abatement work had been scheduled to begin on Oct. 8 and was anticipated to be finished on Dec. 28. The day center is being funded by a $1.7 million grant from D.C. plus additional funds from the BID. Officials predict that it will serve between 100 and 150 people a day when it débuts. Department of Human Services Director Laura Zeilinger has said the program is “a critical component in advancing the progress made to reduce and end homelessness in the District.”

According to advocates, the need for a downtown day center for the homeless grew when D.C.’s flagship library, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, shut down in March 2017 for a $208 million restoration project. The library, which is slated to reopen in 2020 and is centrally located at 901 G St. NW, was a popular daytime spot for homeless residents.

At the beginning of 2018, more than 3,700 unaccompanied homeless individuals, including several minors, were counted in the District. This was a 5.2 percent jump over the number counted at the beginning of 2017. Hypothermia seasons lasts until the end of March in D.C.

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