Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) addresses a community meeting at Friendship Baptist Church in Ward 6 in February. (Amanda Voisard/For the Washington Post)

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s far-reaching initiative to close the family homeless shelter at D.C. General and open seven smaller, short-term ones across the city is drawing heavy fire. Some neighborhood groups are up in arms because the administration, they say, chose locations without community input. Other residents simply don’t want a shelter in their neighborhoods.

The Bowser plan, however, is also not going down well with residents and city lawmakers shellshocked by the project’s price tag — $660 million over 30 years.

The rollout of Bowser’s initiative was marred by her team’s failure to remember the six P’s: “proper planning prevents pitifully poor performance” — though “pitifully” isn’t the word used.

That the administration reportedly found shelter sites and agreed to pay for them before fully planning the projects and figuring out how to cover the costs is unimaginable and inexcusable.

Bowser, in sticking up for the way her administration handled the project, said, “It’s not easy, nobody said it was going to be easy.” True. But why make it harder than it has to be?

Now the D.C. Council has postponed action on the plan while an independent analysis is conducted — something that should have taken place before the much-ballyhooed announcement in February.

Still, it’s not too late for midcourse corrections. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) wants an assessment out of concern that the costs may be “unreasonably high.” If there are alternative proposals that can achieve the Bowser objective of creating smaller, scattered shelters and save money at the same time, they should be considered.

Likewise, the sites selected for short-term family housing facilities shouldn’t be set in stone. If alternate locations with room for the minimum of 30,000 square feet needed to accommodate between 30 and 50 families — an administration requirement — can be identified with community buy-in, they should be considered. It may require more time and patience, but the overarching goal must be pursued — namely, replacing unlivable D.C. General with safe, smaller community-based facilities where, with the help of robust services, families can get on their feet.

But make no mistake, derailing the Bowser plan would be far more costly than a mayor’s wounded pride. The real casualties would be the more than 300 families living in desperate conditions at D.C. General.

Some of them are women and children who had been living on the street or in places not fit for habitation. We’re talking about some families for whom permanent affordable housing is a moot point — they need a safe place to be immediately, along with services and support to lift their incomes.

They need a roof over their heads. Clean rooms where children will be safe. Shelter where they can receive service-enriched help.

We already know they can’t get these things at D.C. General.

D.C. Department of Human Services Director Laura Zeilinger stressed that point in an interview this week. Ending homelessness is not achieved simply by providing “safe and dignified short-term housing,” she said. You have to get at the problems that caused people to fall into homelessness. That’s why D.C. General — “big and chaotic,” she called it — is one of the worst places to try to serve and support vulnerable families with children.

There’s no “one size fits all” solution for the wide range of problems associated with homelessness. Some families turn up at D.C. General with histories of domestic violence. Others enter with chronic health problems, physical disabilities and issues with substance abuse and mental illness.

D.C. General, Zeilinger said, lacks the space and environment to address those problems. That’s where the smaller, community-based settings come in, she said.

All of the proposed short-term family housing facilities, Zeilinger stressed, will offer the full range of services needed to help homeless families. They are spelled out in administration documents: 24-hour staffing with social workers; early-childhood health screenings; liaisons with schools; links to training, education, jobs and health care; housing search assistance and rapid connection to permanent housing programs. Zeilinger said there would be “specifically designed parenting skills programs, trauma treatment and financial counseling.” All with 24/7 on-site security.

The proposed shelters are not permanent homes. They are places where people can get help to leave the shelters as soon as possible, Zeilinger said.

The task is formidable: remodeling and building facilities, lining up experienced staff and adequate resources to accommodate families next year and in 2018, closing and replacing D.C. General.

The mayor launched her bold initiative without a designated project manager to handle planning, procurement and execution of this top-priority undertaking. That surely puts the plan on track for a train wreck.

As I see it, that’s one homelessness strategy-related problem that Bowser can and should solve. Quickly.

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