A $100,000 renovation of the Georgetown Ministry Facility brings new computers, clean showers and air conditioning to DC’s homeless.
The center, which offers year-round shelter, showers, laundry, and therapy to over 600 homeless people in the area, re-opened its doors this morning after the 6-week renovation.
By the 10 a.m. opening-time, there was already a line of about a dozen homeless people waiting to come in, shower, socialize and use the internet.
The renovation was necessary, according to executive director Gunther Stern.
“It was too crowded,” said Stern, comparing the old space to a “little cubby.”
The center has been located on Wisconsin Ave since 2003. The space that previously contained two large rooms and some administrative desks now houses a large, open room with 5 computer stations, two small rooms where members can meet with in-house doctors and therapists, and a small kitchen-area equipped with a refrigerator, dishwasher and a constant supply of coffee.
The new computers – 5 Mac desktops – aim to attract members who would otherwise flock to local libraries where they are less welcome, explained Stern.
Libraries in DC, “magnets for homeless people,” according to Stern, have begun to adopt systems that deter the homeless from using their facilities as a shelter.
Stern referred to West End Library’s 2008 changes: blinds on street-facing windows so that homeless people can’t watch their belongings from inside, furniture arrangements that preclude large gatherings, and time-limits on computer use.
The center will also adopt a new membership model that Stern calls the Club House Model. In the co-op-like model, the homeless who use the facility are considered “members”.
The members must physically help maintain the facility, through tasks such as loading the dishwasher, monitoring laundry machines, and setting up the coffee and creamer.
Members will also participate in planning and staff meetings. “They will have a say in the process and can give feedback,” Stern explained.
Membership is open.
The only screening process that will exist will be on an individual basis, where a “membership” may be revoked under extenuating circumstances, explained Stern.
The space, which was previously open 5 days a week, will now be open 7 days a week with longer hours than before.
“There is definitely demand for those hours,” said Joe Ryan, president of the center. Ryan said that when he used to visit the center on Sundays it was always crowded.
The center’s income comes largely from donations, explained treasurer John Lange, who has worked with the center for 12 years. Since October, the center has generated nearly $500,000 in income, in-part due to donations from businesses, individuals and local churches and synagogues.
The center now has a small staff of 6 people, but Stern indicated that staff will soon increase to meet the rising demand for services.