Anacostia activists oppose proposed site of homeless women’s shelter

December 30, 2011

The temperatures were subfreezing, but Greta Fuller was on fire at a pre-dawn rally opposing a women’s homeless shelter that’s set to open in historic Anacostia.

“We need businesses in Anacostia, not beds!” Fuller, an advisory neighborhood commissioner, shouted as a few dozen residents looked on. “We want to know: Why here, in our business corridor? We are not against women’s shelters. We are against the oversaturation of these services in a condensed area.”

Thursday’s rally in front of the shelter’s future home on Good Hope Road was organized by neighborhood activists convinced that their fledgling commercial district doesn’t need another carryout or social services facility. Instead, the upwardly mobile residents — some new to the area — are desperate for amenities including a bakery, art studios, sit-down restaurants and an upscale supermarket.

What has particularly rankled shelter opponents is that Calvary Women’s Services, which owns the facility, has refused to meet with them.

Calvary does not need community permission to open the shelter near what residents fondly call the Anacostia Gateway. But some wondered whether the ground floor of the facility could be used for retail or whether they could help find another place for the shelter.

“Where was the good neighbor’s policy?” asked Anthony Muhammad, an ANC chairman who collected hundreds of signatures opposing the shelter’s placement. Messages left for Calvary’s executive director were not returned.

Electoral politics also is involved. Organizers said D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) is a hindrance to change in the area, long defined by poverty, crime and homelessness. Seven people thus far are running to unseat Barry in the April 2012 Democratic primary.

The rally and the growing opposition to the shelter have become a proxy for growing frustration with Barry in some neighborhood circles. Many think he doesn’t share the progressive vision some have for the ward.

“Marion Barry, you are not in touch with our community,” Fuller said at the rally, asserting that the ward has several dozen social service agencies, group homes and shelters that stymie private development. “You don’t know what we want! You don’t know what we need!”

In advance of the rally, Barry issued a news release praising Calvary Women’s Services and condemning opponents, one of whom, a former staff member, is now running to oust Barry from his council seat.

“The planned protest of the Calvary Women’s Shelter in Ward 8 led by Natalie Williams, a candidate for the Ward 8 City Council seat, indicates her insensitivity . . . about the shelter,” the release said. “Calvary is doing the Lord’s work .

Anyone who opposes this transition house opposes 50 women trying to get their lives back together.”

He added: “Natalie Williams just recently moved into the Ward and knows very little about it. She should be ashamed of herself to oppose a group that is trying to bring help, hope, jobs and resources to 50 single women who are attempting to get their lives together.”

D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D), in a letter, scolded Barry for delivering a political attack on an opponent using his council staff and e-mail account.

Williams, who once was Barry’s spokesman, said the protest is about “Calvary’s blatant disregard and disrespect of the leadership of our neighborhoods.”

“And it is in protest of our current council member’s willingness to continue to allow and support such programs that take away from the improvement and progression of our ward,” said Williams, whom Barry endorsed as recently as September for president of the Ward 8 Democratic committee.

Barry remains a fixture in the ward of 70,000 people, and it’s unclear whether his opponents can mount a serious challenge. In 2008, against five opponents, Barry received 77 percent of the vote.

Whoever is in office, residents said they intend to hold businesses and organizations moving into the neighborhood to a high standard.

“I can’t even say how personally offended I was when Calvary came to this community and didn’t think we were worthy of a conversation,” said Nikki Peele, who bought a nearby condominium unit four years ago. “What does that say about where we stand in the hierarchy of the community?”

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