By Sydney Franklin
The old La Casa emergency shelter, with its rows of aging trailers lined up behind a chain link fence, was never praised for its beauty. But it filled a need, providing bilingual services and beds for homeless men in the Columbia Heights neighborhood.
When the shelter closed two years ago to make way for a condominium and retail complex in the rapidly gentrifying Columbia Heights, it left a void, particularly for the Spanish-speaking homeless community.
Now, at 1444 Irving Street, NW, a new La Casa Permanent Supportive Housing facility is rising. It will be the first seven-story homeless facility in the city, providing 40 efficiency units for chronically homeless men under a single roof. Resembling the neighboring condominium complexes rather than a shelter, city officials say the new La Casa reflects a new approach to moving people out of homelessness into stable lives .
Mayor Vincent C. Gray officially broke ground on the site on Oct. 23.
“La Casa is an excellent solution in addressing the need to move chronically homeless men and veterans away from shelter environments and into a permanent supportive housing situation,” Gray said in a statement. “Our goal is to help these men, who require more specialized services, move into stable and sustainable housing rather than shelters.”
Studio Twenty Seven Architecture along with joint venture partner Leo A. Daily have teamed up to create this one-of-a-kind facility in the Columbia Heights neighborhood.
The project will be LEED Gold certified, meaning it will be as sustainable as all new federal construction and major renovation projects. These qualities will reduce energy costs and allow the building to be eco-friendly.
The new facility also earned praise from Ward 1 City Councilmember Jim Graham, who has been a major advocate for the redevelopment of the neighborhood, which has been transformed in recent years by the opening of a new metro station as well as restaurants, pubs and chain stores. But Graham has also supported the preservation of affordable housing options for low-income and homeless families and individuals.
“La Casa is the largest project of its type in D.C.,” Graham said. “It’s very, very exciting. La Casa was very low quality. It was dreadful with its trailers and bunk beds. It encouraged human misery rather than alleviating it.”
Graham referred to the new architectural plans as a “magnificent design,” adding that its very location in
the middle of Columbia Heights sends a very important message.
“I think we are a caring community,” he said. “We are making progress.”
Even as work began on the new La Casa Shelter, another popular neighborhood program, The Hermano Pedro Homeless Day Program, announced it would hold its last day of service on Nov. 30. The shelter’s doors will officially close Dec. 3.