Pushing the Homeless East of the River?

Tom Bridge / Flickr

A view of Anacostia from west of the river.

On Monday, we wrote about how a nonprofit’s plans to open a transitional housing building in downtown Anacostia for homeless women has sparked protests by neighbors. Some feel Anacostia is becoming a “dumping ground” for social services, and this is hurting the neighborhood’s chances for economic development.

DCentric commenter Ann-Marie Watt, who is opposed to the project run by Calvary Women’s Services, had this to add:

A couple of years ago, I was volunteering and spoke with a homeless man in McPherson Square park.  He said that he was an advocate for the homeless and operated a blog on homelessness issues.  He was sooo angry at DC and other groups moving their services to Anacostia.  He said that people were trying to get rid of the homeless population by moving them to the other side of the river.  He also said that it would be more difficult to get back to the other side every day.  So, what about that?…

Calvary is planning to relocate from Chinatown to Anacostia. It’s true that more job opportunities exist west of the Anacostia River than east of it. Traveling across the river can be timely or expensive; one alternative is the DC Circulator, which recently started running a rapid $1 bus line connecting Anacostia to the Potomac Avenue Metro across the river.

Much of the opposition against the Calvary project is based on Anacostia residents’ concerns, rather than from those who the project aims to serve. We’ve been denied requests to interview women who would benefit directly from Calvary Women’s Services’ relocating to Anacostia, with the organization citing privacy concerns for their clients. But some success stories are featured in this Calvary-produced promotional video:

Calvary Executive Director Kris Thompson says in the video: “People who invest in this organization, who are donors of this organization, either of their time or of their financial resources, they want to do good with their money and they want to do good with their time. As a staff and as an organization, we take that very seriously, and so we stretch those dollars as far as we can.”

Those dollars are obviously going to be able to do more in Anacostia than in Chinatown, which is home to some of the highest retail and commericial rents in the city. Calvary rents space in Chinatown and purchased a vacant Anacostia building for $950,000 with plans for a $3 million renovation.

It could be argued that there are more residents in need living in Ward 8 than in Chinatown who could benefit from Calvary’s move; 36 percent of Ward 8 residents live below the poverty line, according to census estimates. Some of D.C.’s homeless shelters are moving in part because of the changing demographics of their neighborhoods. Take Central Union Mission, which is leaving its Logan Circle building for downtown. Executive Director David O. Treadwell told Borderstan that gentrification was a major reason behind the move: “We could see the writing on the wall, and we felt like eventually this would no longer be a poor neighborhood. We weren’t priced out since we own our building, but we wanted to be where the people who need our services were.” If similar economic revitalization happens in downtown Anacostia, will Calvary eventually see a reason to move as well?