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Downtown Shelter To Be Reopened

Advocates for Homeless Hail Decision

By Theola S. Labbe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 6, 2005; Page DZ03

A downtown homeless shelter that was closed to make way for a center for abused children will reopen in November -- as a newly renovated homeless shelter, according to city officials.

The Gales School, a red-brick building at 65 Massachusetts Ave. NW near Union Station, was the city's main drop-in shelter for homeless adults before it closed in April.

Anthony Bush pushes his cart away from the Gales School Shelter on Massachusetts Avenue NW before it was closed last year. City officials have dropped plans to convert the former school into a center for abused children. (James Parcell -- The Washington Post)

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Neil Albert, the District's top social services official, said the city scrapped plans to renovate the dilapidated 1881 Romanesque revival building and convert it into a center for abused children because of the $7.3 million price tag and potential difficulties with the building's historic designation.

Albert also said that census figures on emergency shelter use show that beds in the downtown area are nearly always full or pushing capacity.

"There's a need downtown for shelter beds, and the city recognizes that need," said Albert, deputy mayor for Children, Youth, Families and Elders.

The District now plans to put the D.C. Children's Advocacy Center, also known as Safe Shores, in the Bundy school at 429 O St. NW, the former home of the Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities Administration. The cost of renovating that building will be $5 million, Albert said, and construction work will start in late summer.

Advocates for the homeless welcomed the news about the Gales School facility. They had protested when the city recently closed the men's shelter at the old Randall School, at Half and I streets SW, and replaced it with 150 new beds on the campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital.

Advocates say that downtown shelters are critical for many homeless adults who work in the downtown area and for others who will not make the transition miles away to a new location.

Albert met recently with a planning group that included the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, the Coalition for the Homeless and Catholic Charities, which operated the homeless program at the Gales School. The group is discussing how large the new Gales shelter should be and whether it should house men or women.

Albert said the plan is to have the new facility ready for the start of the next cold weather emergency shelter season, which begins Nov. 1.

Safe Shores has been without a permanent home since 1995. It leases space from the city at One Judiciary Square. When a plan to use a former firehouse as the permanent home for the center fell through in 2000, the city pledged it would renovate Gales.

"The process has been protracted, painfully long with a number of disappointments along the way," said Michelle Booth Cole, director. "Gales was promised to us in 2000, and we had expected that to come to fruition before now."

Police, prosecutors and social workers interview and treat children at Safe Shores who have been abused or neglected. The idea behind the center is that children can come to a central location and recount their painful stories to one group, instead of several times to different individuals.

In its temporary quarters, Safe Shores has a child-friendly, cheerfully colored waiting room with toys. But Cole said older children who come to the center do not feel comfortable there. She said the center needs two separate waiting rooms and additional space to hold therapy sessions.

"We've been in this space since 1997, which was supposed to be interim space, and we're busting at the seams," Cole said.

The Bundy school renovation is expected to be completed by next year. It will house offices for the various agencies working on child abuse cases. The city plans to operate a shuttle service from D.C. Superior Court to the school. Also, a new 25,000-square-foot building for treatment programs will be constructed on the lot behind the school.

"We trust and hope that children will be a high priority and services to them will be at the level that they need to be," Cole said.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company