Ward 2 Homeless Shelter Will Close Until 2022 To Fix Maintenance Issues Before the pandemic, the shelter normally served more than 200 women every night.
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Ward 2 Homeless Shelter Will Close Until 2022 To Fix Maintenance Issues

Patricia Handy Place for Women located near Mount Vernon Triangle will close for at least a year sometime this November or December. Screenshot/Google Maps, 2017 / https://bit.ly/3oDmZS2 hide caption

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Screenshot/Google Maps, 2017 / https://bit.ly/3oDmZS2

After four years of persistent maintenance issues, a Ward 2 shelter for unhoused women will temporarily close until at least 2022.

Patricia Handy Place for Women, a low-barrier, temporary shelter that serves unhoused and low-income women near Mount Vernon Triangle, will close for repairs in either November or December of this year. Street Sense Media first reported the news.

In an emailed statement, Director Keith Anderson of D.C.'s Department of General Services — one of the government agencies that oversees the shelter in partnership with its nonprofit contractor, N Street Village — says the building will undergo a series of repairs, including the installation of a new dedicated outside air system (DOAS) and dehumidifiers, an elevator upgrade, window modifications, exhaust and supply ductwork, a power upgrade, and bathroom and shower room renovations, among others.

A DGS spokesperson says the city has not yet finalized an agreement with another temporary housing provider to relocate Patricia Handy's current residents, but is currently looking at "swing spaces." The relocation is not expected to cost the city any additional dollars, according to a spokesperson from the Department of Human Services, the D.C. agency that oversees services for the homeless. N Street Village CEO Schroeder Stribling tells DCist that the space it will likely move to has a capacity of 140 beds, compared to Patricia Handy's 213.

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Officials from both DHS and the DGS declined to speak with DCist for an interview, and instead provided written email responses.

The renovation of Patricia Handy looks to correct many issues, Stribling says, that have hung over the shelter since it opened four years ago. In a statement, Anderson says that elevator issues have been ongoing since 2016, and DOAS problems since 2018.

"[The building condition] doesn't speak to the kind of environment of dignity and reliability that we would like to be offering our residents," Stribling says.

N Street Village, an organization that provides housing, case management, and several other wrap-around services for low-income women and residents experiencing homelessness, opened Patricia Handy under a contract with DHS in 2016. That same year, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced the details of a plan to close D.C. General, the dilapidated family shelter plagued for years by rodent infestations, allegations of sexual abuse, and other quality of life issues for residents, some of whom lived in D.C. General for months or years.

When it finally shuttered in 2018, D.C. General was to be replaced with smaller, short-term shelters across the city's wards. Six of those shelters are now open: the Triumph in Ward 8, the Horizon in Ward 7, the Aya in Ward 6, the Sterling in Ward 5, the Kennedy in Ward 4 and, most recently, the Brooks in Ward 3. The final shelter in Ward 1 is expected to be completed in 2021.

In Ward 2, where there's no plan to erect a new family shelter as a D.C. General replacement, Patricia Handy is one of the jurisdiction's only short-term shelters (in addition to Calvary Women's Services, which sits a block north.)

According to Stribling, N Street Village inherited many of the building's maintenance issues when it opened in 2016, despite a renovation occurring shortly before move-in. The building, which sat vacant before Patricia Handy moved in, had several problems that compounded or recurred as the years went on; as soon as an elevator would get fixed, an issue with plumbing would arise.

"When we moved in, there were some problems at the beginning that persisted and worsened over the years," Stribling says.

It's the latest shelter overseen by DHS to close due to longstanding maintenance complications, and far from the only one where residents have called attention to conditions impacting their quality of life. A Street Sense report earlier this month detailed staff abuse and poor conditions at Harriet Tubman Women's Shelter, a low-barrier shelter located on the D.C. General campus.

According to the Department of General Services, the contractor behind Patricia Handy's building is HITT Contracting — the region's third largest contracting firm. HITT did not immediately return DCist's request for comment.

Stribling says that plumbing issues specifically pose a health risk for mold growth and poor air quality. If the building continued housing residents without a complete renovation, she says these conditions could eventually make the space inhabitable.

Stribling largely credits the residents in the building for consistently drawing attention to the ongoing issues.

"The residents themselves have had an awful lot of patience over these years in working with the building limitations and the problems that we were experiencing, and the staff as well" Stribling says. "Everybody has kept us abreast of the problems, and it's fair to say that residents have been inconvenienced by the problems."

The shelter underwent a full assessment last year, following a joint decision from N Street Village, DHS, and DGS to complete one. Stribling says they determined that a full renovation with a temporary closure was the only way to solve every problem with the building, as opposed to the piecemeal construction work that had been attempted over the past several years.

"It's definitely the most efficient and least disruptive [option], even though it's still disruptive, [to] temporarily relocate and then come back into the building when it is when it is fixed," Stribling says. "With that said, throughout all this time, whenever someone took shelter, the goal was for them to not be there [much] longer. The goal is to help each individual, unique person to get connected to the type of housing they need."

The closure comes at a point of two converging crises for Washingtonians experiencing homelessness: colder weather and an ongoing pandemic. Shelters in the city see annual upticks in demand during the winter as residents seek escape from the dropping temperatures, and these communal settings have become locusts for the threat of COVID-19 infection over the past eight months.

As of May 13, 269 people in D.C. shelters had tested positive for COVID-19, compared to a 1% infection rate for the general population. That number has grown to 353 infected residents as of Oct. 28, and 21 people in D.C.'s homelessness service system have died, according to DHS data.

According to Stribling, many women who use Patricia Handy's services are over the age of 50, or have pre-existing medical conditions that place them at higher risk of falling seriously ill if they contracted the virus. One woman who stayed at the shelter and had "advanced medical conditions," according to Stribling, did contract the virus and pass away.

During the pandemic, the shelter decreased its capacity to accomodate for social distancing — housing 127 residents as of Oct. 28 instead of the average of 200-some women on a non-pandemic night. As a part of DHS' attempts to prevent outbreaks in the city's shelters, residents at Patricia Handy have been moved into isolation (if they contracted the virus or showed symptoms) or quarantine (if they had close contact with a positive case) housing. The remote spaces are set up through DHS' Pandemic Emergency Program for Highly Vulnerable Populations (PEP-V).

Per DHS' most recent numbers, 63 individuals are currently in remote quarantine.

Ahead of winter, Stribling says N Street Village and Catholic Charities, another independent social services agency serving the city's homeless population, will be increasing their shelter capacity, but she adds that it's unclear how both the winter and the pandemic will affect demand for the city's housing services.

"This is no ordinary year, and we're not really quite sure what to expect," Stribling says.

She stresses that the relocation of Patricia Handy residents will not disrupt any of the services offered by the shelter, like case management and meal programs.

"We're just picking up our tent and moving it over," Stribling says. "No one will be left out of this move, no one will lose services during this move. And hopefully, some folks during that time will make successful moves into permanent housing solutions."

While the renovation is expected to be completed within a year, Stribling is aware that construction delays are likely, especially as the pandemic clouds the certainty of many future plans.

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