City officials told residents in Upper Northwest this week that they will not install six trailers for 108 homeless men as planned on a vacant lot in their neighborhood.
Instead, the city will search for another site in Ward 3 to house as many as 50 homeless men by March, the officials said.
Earnest Taylor, chief of the D.C. Office of Emergency Shelter, told nearly 100 residents at an Advisory Neighborhood Commission meeting that the city discovered the privately owned site in the 2800 block of Wisconsin Avenue NW would have to be rezoned for the project, a process that requires lengthy hearings and petitions.
"But we are still trying to locate properties," Taylor said.
The original proposal, announced in the D.C. Register several days before Election Day, angered local residents. Advocates for the homeless charged that the timing was politically motivated by the city to generate negative votes for a referendum that would have extended entitlement to overnight shelter to any who asked for it.
City officials said they were required by law to announce the site even though they had not decided definitely to lease it. They noted that the city is under a court order to place shelters in each ward, and Ward 3 is the only one with no city-run shelter.
The shelter referendum was defeeated by a narrow margin on Nov. 6, the deciding votes coming from Ward 3.
"The problem was the plan was going to stuff trailers and people in a relatively small area," said D.C. Council member Jim Nathanson (D-Ward 3). "Though Ward 3 is only one-eighth of the city, it's one-third of the tax space. People are willing to pay taxes because of what is there -- and what isn't there, if you know what I mean."
ANC leaders said they opposed the plan for other reasons. They said they objected to installing a temporary shelter of this size on land beside single-family homes, and they did not think there were adequate commercial or social services available nearby.
Henrietta Schneider, who has lived across the street from the vacant lot for 30 years, said she was worried about her safety. "I wouldn't dare go outside," she said. "I don't want those derelicts throwing bottles and needles around."
A few residents disagreed and said they were embarrassed by their neighborhood's overwhelming objection to the proposal. Some said they would help the city find more suitable property.
"My neighbors are no ignoramuses, but they are confused," said John Marshall, who lives 150 feet from the lot. "They are concerned that the neighborhood would be awash with drug dealers and panhandlers, but the homeless people are already here."
City officials said the rejection of the shelter referendum does not remove the need for more shelters, because there are not enough to meet a court mandate to reduce crowding at many existing sites by March.
The city is in a bind and it has to look everywhere, said Jenice Woodward, acting homeless coordinator for the D.C. Department of Human Services.
"There are people in other wards who hold their homes as dear as yours, who have a proliferation of facilities in their neighborhood," she said at the meeting.
This is a touchy question," said ANC Commissioner Lauri Handlers. "We are always seen as a white, rich ward that says, 'Not in our back yard.' . . . This was a totally inappropriate, band-aid approach. But given that it is a necessary evil, I am not opposed to it somewhere in the Ward 3 area."