Homeless families housed at the shuttered D.C. General Hospital spent the weekend without hot water, the latest indignity at the long-troubled megashelter set to close this year.
There’s some dispute over when the problems began: Several residents said the hot water stopped working on Thursday night, but shelter officials say they weren’t aware until about midnight Saturday.
The Department of General Services, which manages city-owned property and handles maintenance for the shelter, didn’t receive a complaint about heating problems until noon Saturday. The steam plant that heats the shelter had gone offline; crews restored service within two hours of being notified, but the water remained tepid until staff returned to fix the issues on Sunday evening, DGS spokeswoman Joia Jefferson Nuri said.
Temperatures reached just above freezing over the weekend.
Some residents fled the shelter to bathe elsewhere or had to get creative.
Jewel Johnson, 27, said she filled a bucket with hot water from a water dispenser to wash her three children.
“I didn’t have a choice but to stay there, that’s why I was so frustrated,” said Johnson, who has been in the shelter since mid-January. “I tried to call the mayor because if I had somewhere to go and bathe, I would. I had to go . . . four days without hot water.”
Additionally, Johnson and other residents of the main building on the D.C. General campus were notified on Sunday of a confirmed case of scabies and given a number to call if they noticed any symptoms. Scabies is a contagious skin infestation by tiny mites that cause intense itching and a rash.
Dora Taylor, a spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services, which oversees the shelter, said that two confirmed cases were “resolved immediately” and that it is not uncommon for children to enter the shelter with scabies.
The problems at D.C. General over the weekend were first reported by a reporter for Fox 5.
Shoddy living conditions are common in the nearly century-old facility. A 2014 investigation by The Washington Post found that residents went days, and sometimes weeks, without heat or hot water, and that dozens reported health problems because of dirty bathrooms and pest infestations.
In January, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced that the city would stop housing families at the shelter by the end of the year, even before a new network of smaller replacement facilities that will be built across the city is up and running.
But advocates for the homeless say Bowser’s plan goes against her administration’s repeated assertions that D.C. General wouldn’t shut down until new shelters are ready to receive people.
If the city doesn’t have enough shelter space, administration officials say they will place families in motels.
In a statement last week, the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless said it would keep a close eye on whether Bowser administration officials would steer homeless families to inappropriate housing or turn away applicants from shelters to fulfill the mayor’s campaign promise of shutting down D.C. General.