The District's first mobile, temporary shelter for the homeless -- a 48-foot-long converted truck trailer with 18 bunk-style beds -- opened its doors last week in downtown Washington, providing another place to house the homeless while city officials grapple with their growing numbers.
Mayor Marion Barry, who held a brief news conference inside the trailer hours before it took in its first guests, said the new mode of shelter for the homeless is not "a panacea," but part of a "full platter" of traditional and nontraditional facilities.
The trailer is one of two donated to the city by a bank and a real estate firm, which bought them for $60,000 each from Lifeline Shelters, according to Lifeline President Bradley G. Peters. Peters said he developed the trailer-shelter concept after hearing of efforts by several cities to find new ways to house the homeless. His trailers also are being used in Columbus, Ohio, he said.
The trailer is equipped with a washroom, but no shower, and has limited kitchen facilities. Other models can be outfitted with showers and with quarters to accommodate families, Peters said. The trailer opened Thursday at Seventh and F streets NW.
The second donated trailer-shelter will open this week at Ninth Street and New York Avenue NW, said Joy Yeldell, a spokeswoman for the Office of Emergency Shelter and Support Services. And four other trailers purchased by the city, which will be operated by the House of Ruth shelter, will open soon.
Officials said they hope to gauge reactions to the trailer from homeless people and business operators in the area, possibly within 30 days.
"There's a lot that we don't know and hope to learn from this," said M. Jerome Woods, director of the city's Department of Human Services. "We are able to learn these things without utilizing a lot of tax dollars."
Bob Rich, executive director of the Central Union Mission, whose staff is supervising the first trailer-shelter, said the new concept is particularly suited to hard-core homeless men who may not like to go to traditional shelters. Rich said that word of the trailer's arrival already had circulated on the streets and he predicted no shortage of guests.
Two mission staff members are working at the shelter, which is open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. each day. If inclement weather occurs, the trailer's hours may be extended, Rich said.
Officials said that although the trailer can be moved to other locations, it will remain at its present site as long as the need is there.