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credit: Flickr/internets_dairy

What do homeless men and women staying at the Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV) shelter have to say about the future of the aging facility? What have other cities done to creatively address the needs of their homeless residents? Those were two of the questions pondered by attendees at a recent meeting of a specially convened task force charged with planning for the possible redevelopment of the facility located at 425 2nd Street NW.

The CCNV task force is charged with developing a set of recommendations to help city officials chart the next chapter in the story of the shelter before the 2016 expiration of a federal requirement that the building be used for homeless services. With 1,350 beds, CCNV is the city’s largest shelter, but the former federal college building is badly in need of repair. Task force members are weighing the advisability of repairing the existing building, completely rebuilding on the site, or providing homeless services elsewhere.

A majority of the 159 shelter residents who responded to a survey about the future of the shelter said that they value the current location of the facility near Judiciary Square because it is close to transportation, services and jobs.

Some also cited the historic importance of the shelter, which has served the city’s homeless since the 1980s. Many survey respondents spoke of the importance of providing permanent supportive housing for the homeless and affordable housing for seniors in any future project. Many also said that people who currently use the shelter, and others who are particularly vulnerable, should be given priority for placements in a new facility.

Holly Dennison of the New York-based CSH spoke of the large supportive and affordable housing developments her firm has built. The 910 DeKalb project in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood offers more than 60 affordable and supportive housing units for families and formerly homeless adults. The Castle Gardens project includes 114 units, which serve a mix of low-income and formerly homeless families, with services especially designed to help formerly incarcerated residents.

Dennison asked attendees to imagine similar projects in the District.

“We have so many opportunities here,” she said.

Next to share with the group was Richard Bradley, executive director of Downtown Business Improvement District (BID), who chairs the strategic planning sub-committee of the task force.

“Our first intention was to ask what are our needs here?” Bradley said. A challenge that lies ahead is finding the right mix of services and housing options, Bradley added. He spoke in support of building affordable and supportive housing, “but there is still a need for shelter,”

DC City Council member Jim Graham, who chairs the council’s human services committee asked about large homeless programs around the country that provide a mix of shelter and supportive housing.

“What is the largest shelter with permanent supportive housing?” Graham asked. “What are we talking about here?”

Bradley spoke of shelter models in New York and Philadelphia with 500 units. Graham pointed out that currently, the District has more than 1,000 units of permanent supportive housing .

“We are in the process of expanding permanent supportive housing,” Graham said.

Graham went on to reassure current shelter residents that whatever changes are made at CCNV will not happen overnight.

“This shelter is not closing in two years,” said Graham. “Please don’t have that anxiety this place is going to shut down.”