(Updated at 9:25 Friday) Teens and preteens at the D.C. General homeless shelter soon will have their own space to do homework and receive tutoring.
The Homeless Children’s Playtime Project, an organization that creates spaces for homeless children to play and learn, is planning next month to convert unused space at D.C. General into a room designed specifically for shelter residents who are eight to 19 years old.
“A sense of space really directly impacts one’s self esteem,” said Jamila Larson, the executive director and co-founder of the Playtime Project. “I think being in a safe, predictable, beautiful and supportive environment makes a huge difference in inspiring and motivating people to get back on their feet.”
The group plans to open the space Oct. 21 on the first floor of the shelter in an area once used as a patient waiting room when D.C. General was a hospital. The space has remained empty since the building became a homeless shelter in 2012.
Before the opening, the Playtime Project is looking for volunteers to help set up the space on Oct. 10 and 17.
Larson said the group has wanted to build a space specifically for teens and preteens for several years. The program works with 10 t0 15 teens and 15 to 20 preteens on any given night, she said.
D.C. General has designated rooms for infants and elementary school-aged children. But older children have to meet with mentors and tutors from the organization in shared spaces, often resulting in disruptions and scheduling conflicts.
“We’ve had to share space with the shelter which means being displaced when the shelter needs a meeting space,” Larson said. “That kind of disruption is especially stressful for people experiencing homelessness because so much of their life is in flux and is disrupted already.”
Larson said children can use the room to do homework, read, go on computers and, for the younger children, play freely. Movable box furniture will split the room into teen and preteen sections. Larson added that the space was designed so that it could be easily relocated to another facility in the future.
“The shelter is not going to be around forever; it may be closed in four to five years,” she said. “But the hundreds of children that are going to come here in the meantime deserve a safe, bright, beautiful program space starting now. It can’t wait; there’s homework due every day.”
Larson credited Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration with helping clear some of the red tape that has prevented Playtime Project from building a designated teen and preteen space in past years.
The project is funded largely by a $30,000 grant from Lowe’s and several local businesses have volunteered their time to help build the space.
Photos via Homeless Children’s Playtime Project