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Mayor cuts ribbon at new homeless men’s shelter on St. Elizabeths East campus in Southeast D.C.

The St. Elizabeths East campus in Southeast Washington in 2020. (Craig Hudson for The Washington Post)
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D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced Monday the official opening of a new homeless shelter for single men at the St. Elizabeths East campus in Southeast Washington — one of several ongoing projects meant to transform the campus into a mixed-use community.

The shelter, which is equipped to house 396 people and more during hypothermia season, replaces the old 801 East men’s shelter and includes facilities specifically for seniors, men in need of medical care, and working men with employment demands. The shelter is primarily designed as a low-barrier facility, meaning homeless men who may not qualify for other shelters in the District that have requirements and rules for entry — like documentation and policies on what they can and cannot bring in with them — would be more likely to be admitted.

Bowser, who campaigned on promises to improve the city’s homeless services, said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday that this is meant to address some of the issues homeless men encounter when seeking services and aligns with her administration’s goal of making homelessness “rare, brief and nonrecurring.”

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The new facility in Ward 8 is the result of a $56 million development project and includes amenities for residents such as personal storage spaces, charging docks for phones and personal devices next to every bed, laundry facilities, a mailroom, computer lab and barber shop.

The old 801 East shelter for men had 380 beds and was also considered low-barrier.

Laura Green Zeilinger, the District’s director of human services, said one of the small but impactful changes implemented at the new 801 East shelter is a space for men to line up inside the building, instead of having to wait for admission out in the elements.

It’s the latest in a series of new, smaller shelters erected throughout the District meant to replace large, aging facilities, such as the shelter for families at the former D.C. General Hospital, which were widely criticized by homeless individuals and families as being unsafe, unsanitary and overcrowded. The majority of these new shelter facilities have been geared toward addressing the needs of homeless families.

Over the last decade, single adults have not received the same amount of attention or investment. In 2021, D.C. officials reported there were about a quarter as many homeless families living in the District as five years prior, but in that same time period, the number of homeless single adults rose by 5 percent.

Today, it is city policy to give housing assistance to any homeless family that turns to the District for help. But among single adults, fewer than 15 percent of the more than 10,000 homeless people who ask for help each year are given temporary housing through a rent subsidy or voucher program known as “rapid rehousing.”

Phillip Lea, a formerly homeless man who received job training and interview prep from a transition program at the Ward 8 men’s shelter, helped build the new structure with his own two hands. He is one of a handful of men known among advocates and D.C. officials as the “Goodfellas Team,” who scored construction jobs and have since moved on from the shelter.

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At the ribbon cutting, Lea told the assembled crowd that when he came to the shelter, he “didn’t have anything.”

Now, he said, he’s an electrician, and he has his own place.

“When the city has opportunity, we expand that opportunity and that means for everyone,” Bowser said to applause. “Everybody deserves a chance to get back on his feet, to have the services that they need and to have the city support that transformation. That’s exactly what we’re going to do here.”

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