WASHINGTON INFORMER: Last week, Bladensburg residents were surprised to see a local church that was purchased last year by developers is being converted to a temporary homeless shelter. County Executive Angela Alsobrooks (D) was recently seen touring the site. Among the concerns raised by local organizations and community residents is the transparency prior to the site being chosen.
Some Bladensburg residents allege that this shelter was proposed and approved without the input of local elected officials including City Council members such as District 5 Council member Jolene Ivey (D).
“When it was brought to their attention, I believe a lot of them were not aware,” said Bladensburg resident Abdoul Diatike.
Alsobrooks recently confirmed the site is being considered to WJLA News, and admitted she is aware of the opposition.
“I’m not tone-deaf. I won’t ignore the concerns of the residents of Bladensburg,” Alsobrooks said. However, Alsobrooks had criticism of the “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) attitude towards the homeless.
“Everybody loves poor people as long as they don’t live near them,” Alsobrooks said. “That’s literally what I have found. Go from one community to the next — if you raise the issue of trying to find a place to house the homeless, everyone says we love and care about the poor, but can you tuck them away so we don’t have to see them.”
Bladensburg Citizens React
Several Bladensburg residents chimed in with their opinions. Diatike believes the Bladensburg site is isolated from areas that offer services outside of housing that would be needed. “We want them to be successful and have the services they need; Bladensburg is not that place. I am sure they can find a use for an abandoned or unused building/warehouse in the nearby unincorporated areas,” he said. He also emphasized that Bladensburg already takes care of the poor in their own community, and that “tucking away a temporary shelter in a working-class community,” will not provide access to other needed support.
Kristina Smith believes a facility that offers housing without skills development, counseling, or mental health support is not an answer. “The county must co-create solutions with the residents that their decisions will impact,” Smith said when asked how she suggests Prince George’s can better address homelessness. “Yes, this may require a little longer, but the outcomes will usually be a win-win for everyone.”
Steve Weitz believes a town hall should be held on the matter. He said, “I do not support a homeless shelter in Bladensburg because our town does not have enough police, town staff and resources to support a homeless shelter. Our small town has 10,000 residents, 5,000 students, seven schools and three very busy highways.”
The Better Bladensburg Block by Block and Business by Business Initiative (B5) is also opposed to the shelter. Similar to the Diakite, the organization said the lack of public transportation access and other agencies that provide need to the site is a concern. In a press release provided to the Informer, B5 explained why the organization has taken a stance against the shelter, noting consideration of residents, public safety and schools. “In opposing the establishment of a homeless shelter, our stance is not against people in need nor those seeking shelter. On the contrary, in fulfilling its mission, B5 has directed those falling on hard times to appropriate resources and in doing so has acted as a bridge for those in need.”
Multiple residents also stressed the need for affordable housing and more jobs to ensure more County residents don’t become homeless.
What Are Temporary Homeless Shelters?
Temporary homeless shelters, such as the one proposed in Bladensburg, differ from transitional housing shelters, such as the Men’s Shelter in Capitol Heights.
In temporary shelters, beds are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis. In transitional housing, beds are offered on a more extended basis of two weeks or more. For example, The Men’s Shelter in Capitol Heights has 36 beds, 24 for 60-day emergency shelter and 12 for one-year transitional shelters.
“Temporary shelters operate with overnight capacity, releasing those who are able to get a bed for the night to find a place to go during the day,” B5 explained. According to B5, the 5th Council District currently has multiple shelters for women and children along with other existing agencies.
The Salvation Army currently operates in the unincorporated area near the town.
Photo: The Men’s Shelter in Capitol Heights is an example of transitional housing, where housing is offered on an extended basis. In temporary housing, housing is offered on a first-come, first-served basis nightly. (Courtesy photo)