WASHINGTON — We met Dmetrius Davis while he pushed his son in a stroller past the 801 East Men's Shelter. It’s where Davis stays most nights after co-parenting with young Jahari’s mother. When asked how he felt bringing his young son to the shelter, Davis responded, "I don’t like it. The only reason I brought him in was because I have to make sure I get my bed for the day."
801 East Men’s Shelter has 396 beds. It opened Jan. 24 with a ribbon cutting from DC Mayor Muriel Bowser.
"When I think of where we’ve come with the shelter that we will close to this new shelter. I know we are making good on those promises that every person deserves a chance to get back on his feet, to have the services that they need," Bowser said during the opening.
The new $56 million construction project is at the old St. Elizabeth’s East Campus in Ward 8.
Dmetrius Bess walks to the shelter every day with a heavy limp he added due to neuropathy. When asked in September whether staff allowed him to use the elevator, Bess responded "No, they don't."
Residents shot video and pictures inside the shelter they say show the elevators had been shut down for months. We are not identifying who shot the video since recording is forbidden according to DC rules.
801 East Men’s Shelter is owned by DC’s Department of Human Services, with contractors from Catholic Charities and Community Connections. All groups declined our interview requests and our requests for a tour of the shelter.
The District pays Community Connections $1 million a year to provide food to the men seeking shelter here.
"Lukewarm. It’s half done," said a resident giving his name as "Swan."
"At this point, some people don’t even like eating in here because it’s not always cooked all the way through, and that’s dangerous," added Davis.
Since we began our investigation into client complaints at the shelter, DC stopped offering lunch to shelter residents, saying it was only a COVID emergency offering. In September, DHS announced that the restaurant “Henry’s Soul Food Café” will start preparing dinner in December. Shelter resident William Johnson says the lack of lunch comes with consequences:
"I know of people who actually go to different grocery stores and shoplift. Risking their freedom because they’ve got to shoplift to feed themselves," said Johnson. "Because they’re hungry."
Video taken by residents shows that because of the broken elevators and confirmed by DC DHS, the day room traditionally used for storage was being used by residents overnight for several months.
"They’ve got two men sleeping in the day room on cots, like little Army cots. An army cot is about this high off the floor. Imagine you being 60 years old and you have to get up off of that. There’s no mattress. No cushion," said Johnson while lifting his hand less than two feet from the ground.
Other residents were concerned about how close men are kept in some sleeping areas:
"Monkeypox, COVID, I’ve got a child. I’m taking a risk by coming here, laying around a bunch of people,' said Davis.
DC Human Services Department says it just finished fixing the elevators. That allowed the re-opening of the fifth floor taking away the need to keep men overnight in the dayroom. 801 East Men's Shelter opened up a computer lab and barber shop for its residents.
In a statement, it added, “The Department of Human Services (DHS) has partnered with other District agencies to transform the 801 East Men’s Shelter into an award-winning facility that seeks to build an environment of warm welcome and safety. Starting this month, meals will be prepared on site by a culinary staff using the 801 East Men’s Shelter commercial grade kitchen, the first of its kind within the District shelter system. Residents of the District’s low-barrier system will be able to use the shelter’s commercial-grade kitchen to earn certifications in food handling and culinary skills in partnership with Henry’s Soul Café. We are constantly striving to improve the experiences of the guests in our programs and we take complaints seriously."
801 East Men’s Shelter was opened with fanfare at being part of the District’s solution to housing men until they can get housing vouchers. While residents we talked to say this shelter is better than the other men’s shelter on New York Avenue due to lice and bed bug complaints there, they feel improvements are still needed at the new shelter.
“It’s better living in the tent out here than it is in the shelter, added Bess. “Because of the fact you get more peace of mind.”
Bess said, “Because of the fact you get more peace of mind.”