Image from Google Street View.

Anacostia residents are eager to create a vibrant main street. But plans to put a homeless shelter in the middle of the business district, especially one without any ground-floor retail component, would impede Historic Anacostia’s progress.

Lydia DePillis reported in the Washington City Paper that Calvary Women’s Services will be opening a women’s homeless shelter at 1217-1219 Good Hope Road SE. 

Though this project has been in the works for months, many community leaders learned of the shelter through an email blast from Chairman Kwame Brown last week.

I am a small business owner on the 2000 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Ave SE, which is around the corner from the proposed homeless shelter. My personal preference is to have more options for lunch and dinner in the business district.

While there is indeed a need for social services in the neighborhood, many residents east of the river worry that an overabundance of such facilities will stifle revitalization efforts.  Chris Jerry, Vice President of the Fairlawn Citizens Association, stated, “Ward 8, and the portion of Ward 7 Fairlawn, soon to be redistricted to Ward 8, the areas closest to the bridges that begin or end east of the Anacostia River, have been overrun with social program facilities.”

The homeless shelter would be right in the middle of the business district and less than a block from a methadone clinic, also location on Good Hope Road SE, which according to Mr. Jerry “serves addicts not only from DC, but suburban Virginia and Maryland too.”

Over the last four years the 1200 Block of Good Hope Road has experienced some positive changes.  ARCH Development Corporation open the Honfleur Art Gallery in 2007 to bring art to the community and display art of local residents through its annual East of the River show. The newly constructed Anacostia Gateway I, located at end intersection of Good Hope Road and Martin Luther King Jr Ave SE, opened in 2009. 

The 1200 block of Good Hope is home to one of the original Capital Bikeshare Stations.  As recent as last month a 24/7 Express Mart opened at 1223 Good Hope Rd SE.

Putting aside that the newcomer to the block is a homeless shelter, the larger question is why put a 100% residential building in the middle of a business district?

At its proposed location there could have been more creativity by making the project mixed-use. Calvary could locate a restaurant or retail business on the street level where the residents of the homeless shelter could have employment and gain some skills. The residences could be on the upper floor.  This would allow for provision of social services and create jobs, while energizing the street level.

As if it is wasn’t hard enough to get economic development East of the River, decisions like this make empty store fronts more unattractive for potential businesses.  Main streets like Good Hope Road in Historic Anacostia should have commerce that creates employment and cultivates new businesses.

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Veronica O. Davis, PE, has experience in planning transportation, urban areas, civil infrastructure, and communities.  She co-owns Nspiregreen, LLC, an environmental consulting company in DC.  She is also the co-founder of Black Women Bike DC, which strives to increase the number of Black women and girls biking for fun, health, wellness, and transportation.