The Sexist

The Dog Ate My Domestic Violence Shelter

Yays and Nabes: Behind Ward 5’s calm exteriors, furious typing about future developments.

It’s always tricky to rail against a domestic violence shelter without coming off like an asshole.

So residents of Ward 5 have to watch out. Many really don’t want a proposed transitional housing project for women and children slated to open in the Eckington neighborhood next spring. The plan, as championed by the District Alliance for Safe Housing (DASH), foresees partially subsidized apartment-style digs to help victims of domestic violence transition back into community life. If NIMBYs hate anything, it’s transitions. Though concerns about drug abuse and crime prevention overwhelm the debate, most residents are afraid that affordable housing for transitional types will make their own properties more “affordable,” as well.

But they don’t have to say that!

Homeowners in this part of town have fine-tuned their anti-social-services arguments, thanks to the area’s affordable-, transitional-, halfway-, shelter-housing past. DASH’s new home is already host to a glut of specialty projects, many catering to women: the 19-unit “Open Arms” apartment building for homeless women plans to open this month; “Hyacinth Place,” a Trinidad housing project for women who suffer from substance abuse and mental illness, is currently in the works—and also hotly contested.

DASH is quick to point out that its forthcoming housing project does not require the community’s support to move forward—but that it hopes to foster a positive relationship between Eckington neighbors and tenants anyhow. DASH addressed the conspiracy theories in an FAQ about the project [PDF]. One frequently asked question: “Do DASH and Councilmember Thomas have a ‘back-door-deal’ to force this shelter on the community?” Short answer: No. But residents wouldn’t be able to stop it if they did.

What those residents can do, however, is come up with ever-more-inventive rationales for opposing programs for women. Herewith the best of the bunch:

WARD 5 RESIDENTS ALREADY MARTYRS TO TOO MANY CAUSES. In a recent post on Why I Hate DC, blogger Anne razzed the ward by characterizing the next-door Bloomingdale neighborhood as “nothing but gang-bangers, former hippies and indie kids who need a good shave,” who are liable to “get a cap in your ass when you’re walking 10 blocks home from the metro.” An offended resident took the missive as an opportunity to play up the neighborhood’s altruism on the Bloomingdale Listserv. “I think this could be fairly and realistically interpreted as one more voice stating this area of town has more than its share of pathological life-support services. Maybe Friendship Heights would like to sign up to host the next drug rehab-clinic or homeless-shelter or battered women’s support facility?” The resident then mediated the response with the admission that opposing “battered women” is an unpopular position: “See you in hell (sigh).”

WARD 5 NOT MARYLAND’S BITCH. Community backlash to the Hyacinth’s Place proposal cites a drain on police resources, an already healthy drug problem in the area—and external pressures. “We will not be dumped on and burdened with a project that individuals who reside in Maryland are promoting here,” Ward 5 resident Kathy Henderson wrote for the opposition, on the Bloomingdale neighborhood Listserv. Ward 5 residents, Henderson wrote, are tired of “serving as a repository for undesirable projects that no one wants, except persons that reside
in Maryland.”

HOMELESS WOMEN’S SHELTER OR SEX CLUB? Henderson then rallied the troops by drawing parallels between shutting down the homeless housing and the great Ward 5 gay club blockage of 2007. “First, we battled the threat of sex clubs operating in our midst, now this,” Henderson wrote. “We have come too far as a community to allow this type of project to erode our public safety gains. The battle lines
are drawn!”

SLIPPERY SLOPE. The pushback against housing projects for women inevitably inspires a “slippery slope” argument. If we allow people to build houses, it won’t be long before people begin building other types of structures—unspeakable ones. Debbie Smith wrote the following to the Eckington Listserv, in response to DASH’s plans: “We also should remember that we all have said in numerous meetings that we did not want the South and West sides of Ward 5 to be dumping grounds again. Let’s think about where we want to go and how to get here together. Also, how are we as residents going to deal with the possibility of Gun Store’s locating in our community? I understand that there is an interest to move into our Ward 5. Do we want this?”

When local real estate blog DCMud covered a recent addition to the ward’s affordable housing glut, a reader weighed in with a counterintuitive argument: Housing for women is bad because it draws more men to the area. “I live near this crap shoot,” the neighbor wrote. “I honestly believe this is going to lower my property values. We just succeeded in getting rid of boarding home on the corner of our block. It was a place meant for pregnant teens, but it attracted boys/men from all over the hood and all kinds of illegal activity.”

THINK OF THE CHILDREN. DASH detractors are quick to point to the danger that a housing project meant to protect women and children could pose to…other children. The project is located close to McKinley Technology High School—and right across the street from a schoolbus stop. “As long as we’re so unconcerned about the environment DC schoolchildren have to wade through every day, why not go all the way?” wrote one commenter on the Eckington Listserv. “There’s got to be someone out there who’d like to legalize slots and prostitution—maybe we can open THOSE adjacent to some Ward 5 schools too!”

PROTECTING WOMEN A SUSPICIOUSLY POSITIVE CAUSE. Not all vocal Ward 5 members oppose DASH’s housing project. “[I]t is an honor to support any effort to combat domestic violence,” Eckington resident Joel Dubenitz wrote in to the neighborhood Listserv. “I don’t see how anyone could be against providing shelter to women who may be severely injured or killed in a violent relationship.” What is this guy trying to prove, anyway?

TELLIN’ IT LIKE IT IS. Eckington resident Steve Rynecki, at least, offered a refreshingly transparent excuse for refusing to support housing projects. “My question is why does housing need to be affordable exactly?” he wrote on the Listserv. “Why should taxpayers pay for section 8 vouchers? Honestly, I can’t live just any old place I want to. I have to live here in Eckington and make the best of it, since this is what I could afford.”

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

  • suicide_blond

    christ on a cracker NIBYs make me crazy...
    "“We have come too far as a community to allow this type of project to erode our public safety gains. The battle lines
    are drawn!”
    gawd i hope i run into this guy when im coming out of the sex club next time...cause you KNOW he goes...

  • jaime

    Just a clarification so not to confuse projects (in Ward 5, but not in Eckington): Hyacinth's Place is slated to be built on the edge of Trinidad at 1058 & 1060-1062 Bladensburg Rd. NE between Mudricks Supermarket and the Capitol City Diner.

  • jaime

    also, to clear up some confusion i caused on twitter with regard to this post - hyacinth's place isn't a domestic violence shelter - i would never share the proposed or final address of a domestic violence shelter.

  • jules

    this makes me really sad :( I'm a social worker and I know how much some women depend on DASH to get on their feet after leaving an abuser. Most of the women I know who are living there have jobs, and are hard working, responsible people. They are sweet, lovely, and brave. They are good neighbors.

    What these NIMBYs don't understand is that DASH is incredibly selective with the women they allow to move into their housing: they must have goal plans, be looking for work or working, be drug free, etc etc... DASH creates really beautiful spaces for these women, and has places all over the city.

    Honestly, there are probably people living next door to DASH housing who aren't even aware that it is a D.V. shelter.

    Anyway, off my soapbox now...

  • EckingtonRes

    Amanda - I don't think that you have much perspective of the situation in Eckington. For the last few years there has been an significant decrease in ultra-violent crime on a daily basis, only to be reduced to the occasional murder, shooting or ADW. Residents are finally allowing themselves to breathe - those of us that bought houses recently are no longer questioning the purchase, crime is down and things are looking up. However adding homeless shelters, liquor stores, the DASH project etc have become too much for one neighborhood. We are already host to the Emry men's shelter, and the St. Martin's transitional home. From what I understand there are even more subsidized, high risk, transitional housing projects packed into Eckington. What your readers also should know is that Eckington is not large. Bordered by Florida Ave on the south, Rhode Island on the north, N. Capitol on the west and 4th St NE, the area is at most 20 sq blocks and home to its more than fair share of (insert negative urban keyword). We are simply trying to protect and save what is left, not allow deterioration of hard fought gains against blight and destructive forces in our neighborhood.

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  • TruxtonCircleRes

    I think what people dont realize is the number of these social programs already in our neighborhood. It is not a case of NIMBY, but already IMBY. How about yours?? It's not that we are against them, but we feel they should be distributed through ALL the wards. On my block alone I have an apartment building for homeless women and SOME and most of my block is empty due to the old unused school.
    The park that we would like converted to a dog park and not a parking lot has a lot to do with safety concerns. I dont even have a pet, but I know that a dog park would get people out in the neighborhood. I also think its silly that they would need a huge parking lost when there are a ton of bus lines on that block.

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  • TCres2

    Jules, suicide blonds
    Is it fair to put a battered womans shelter into the environment that exists in this part of town? I would imagine its probably not the best idea, unless the women need a access to a meth clinic, soup kitchen or numerous liquor stores that will be their neighbor. Nobody here is trying to remove what we have, we just can't afford any more. The social services are serving populations that do not even live in our neighborhood. (ie, people are bussed to SOME and the clinic) Unfortunately, there's no return service and after their use of the service they are dumped back out on our streets and not returned to whence they came. If you want to see the effect this physically has on the community look at the rear of the buildings on north cap and notice the lack of degraded morter 3-feet and below. This is largely from public urination. FYI, there are no bars or restaurants that can be blamed for this.

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  • Ward 5 Res

    Amanda, I usually appreciate your point of view in this space. However, you clearly do not understand the dynamics of this neighborhood. Anyone who lives here can see that you are out of touch just by reading this article; and it doesn't particularly matter that the topic is a DV shelter for women. You don't really know what you're talking about here. You get points for caring though.

  • JM

    Agree with the other comments above. Now if the City Paper really wanted to do some investigative reporting, they could answer the question: where are the transitional housing programs in Ward 3?

  • Amanda Hess

    JM, isn't it obvious? The property values are too high for a domestic violence shelter to buy property in a bougie ward. Incidentally, that's the same reason why the neighbors of domestic violence shelters don't up and move to Georgetown: they can't afford it. So instead, they complain about why people in dire need of affordable housing are moving into a neighborhood with such affordable housing (just like they have). In this case, their bickering isn't going to stop victims of domestic violence from mingling with them at block parties---they have no say over the development. What it will do is lay down a nice welcome mat of resentment for these women and children when they move in next door.


    Residents of Eckington and Ward 5 just want the same thing that the people in Ward 3, Georgetown etc have - a nice, safe community. We save up, buy what we can afford and try to improve it. In trying to improve our surroundings we are called NIMBYs etc despite the fact that we have the MOST social agencies of any ward. So your misguided article that we are against helping battered women is warped. We're just saying we have our fair share, spread the love with Georgetown, AU Park, etc.

  • Q

    "What it will do is lay down a nice welcome mat of resentment for these women and children when they move in next door." Excellent! As a former Ward 5 resident, I can appreciate those sentiments. When I lived there, there were threats of go-go and strip clubs, halfway houses, and the like. The citizens (not Orange or Thomas) were the reason these businesses had to go elsewhere (and become someone else's problem). Don't get me wrong, Ward 5 has MORE THAN ITS SHARE of these facilities and Trash Transfer Stations, but just because the shelter or home is there, doesn't mean it will attract miscreants and folks bad for the neighborhood. Engage your neighbors!

  • Q

    The previous comment was actually lauding Amanda on her statement.

  • USTRes

    I actually know Amanda lives in Bloomingdale (or did recently) which makes this all the more shocking to see such a nasty and ill-informed article.

    I don't think the people speaking out against DASH are in any way against helping women survivors of domestic violence. I think this area is just really sick of the fact it seems like we get a really large share of these kinds of places. I live next to two half way houses and while I am supportive of it and try to know the residents as neighbors, there are times that people who are there bring some negative aspects to my street. Relapses, fighting, etc. have and do happen in those places. That doesn't mean I don't want them there, it just means that the two on my block alone are probably ENOUGH.

    And I worked for 3 years in DC domestic violence and I KNOW first hand that while these places are great, that they absolutely DO bring some negative things into the area. They just do.

    I think what feels so unfair is that the richer whiter areas of DC don't have to deal with this as much. I seems like it's totally reasonable to have every neighborhood share equal amounts of social burdens. While we are happy to have our share, it is unfair to put so much in such a small area.

    I think it was nasty and pompous of Amanda to write this. Particularly since while she has lived here, she has in NO WAY taken a positive role in this community or involved herself at all. She took some good time to slink out long enough to criticize all her neighbors though. Shame on you.

  • watcher2

    There are more problems in DC than blacks and drugs. There are areas that are so innappropriate for my child to live in to see homosexuals holding hands,kissing and men walking like sick idiots with their hair bouncing while bragging about their boyfriends and gay women making passes at normal women. Not to mention that we have wittnessed elderly hispanic women stealing alcohol in the safeway and being caught but nothing was relly done and no police were called in either case. There are monumental crimes being committed in DC by your so called proffessionals, gays and hispanics that are not allowed to hit the news as to make it look like blacks are the main problem.

    The blacks and other races of people in DC that are the problem are those who are council people and those who run the city that allow crimes for those they like and vote sodom & G in to disease the minds of the youth etc...

  • watcher2

    Speaking of DC shelters, it's not always the clients, in fact it is the kind of staff they have working in those places that cause many problmes. Every Shelter in DC should be investigated as some shelter staff people actually put women and men or should I say set up situations for sex to go on in the shelters. The amount of child abuse, sex crimes and drug abuse is monumental in the DC shelter system and those filthy staff people along with many DHHS workers should be charged and locked up in jail for participating in it and threatening those who try to report it.