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Homeless Services Adjust to Closings

Meal Deliveries, Shelter at Issue

By Theola S. Labbe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 19, 2005; Page A10

Street closings for the pomp and partying that will accompany tomorrow's inauguration have prompted nonprofit groups to engage in a different kind of inaugural planning: how to care for the homeless in the downtown area where traffic will be blocked off.

Some groups with feeding programs inside the security zone have canceled meals tomorrow because of the traffic ban, while others are trying to provide regular services to the homeless without running afoul of security regulations.

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Social service providers, noting that many homeless men and women sleep along the section of Pennsylvania Avenue NW where tomorrow's parade will be, said they also are making an effort to get those people into shelters because no one will be allowed in that zone as of tonight.

"We will find alternative areas for the homeless to sleep, outside of the restricted area, because they can't be there, they and everybody else," said Cornell Chappelle, chief of program operations for the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness.

Martha's Table, a nonprofit organization that operates daily mobile soup kitchens throughout the city, will not run its feeding programs tomorrow at 19th Street and Pennsylvania NW and 15th and K streets NW because the locations are inside the zone cordoned off by federal officials, said Juliet Orzal, director of volunteers for the group.

Orzal, who said she remembered the terrible traffic downtown during the 2001 inauguration, decided that the group will bring extra soup and sandwiches to its site at Fifth Street and New York Avenue NW.

DC Central Kitchen, which goes to downtown businesses and cafeterias to pick up the leftover food that it uses to prepare meals for the homeless, will avoid those trips tomorrow and make extra pickups today and Friday. But the group will venture into the security zone tomorrow night to go to the City Museum of Washington, where it will pick up leftover food from an inaugural ball that was pledged by Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.).

The group also plans to make three deliveries tomorrow to homeless programs near the security zone, sending a driver to each site with a letter stating the purpose of the trip.

"Our goal is to make sure that the inauguration does not prevent people from having a meal," said Frances Reed, DC Central Kitchen's director of partner relations and transportation.

The group also operates First Helpings, a breakfast program that is inside the no-traffic zone at 19th and E streets NW. The Secret Service has given the group permission to run the program tomorrow morning, said First Helpings' director, Craig Keller. He said he gave the police agency a description of the van that would be bringing in food.

But Keller said he was still planning for delays. "I'm arming my driver with a phone, the name of the Secret Service person and his number so if there's any problem, we can call him up and chat."

The inauguration that has excited ticket holders and out-of-town visitors has brought worry and uncertainty to the city's homeless. Holson Julien, an outreach worker from Capitol Hill Group Ministry, said he had been talking with homeless people since last week about how the events will affect them.

"I've told them not to store their belongings downtown and to keep their important papers on them, like their birth certificate," said Julien. "Some don't care. Others want to know what they're going to get out of it, if they're going to get a meal and if the shelters are overcrowded -- where they will be for the next few days," he said.

Vans that bring homeless people from shelters in other parts of the city to feeding programs downtown will not operate tomorrow morning, Chappelle said. As a result, city officials will keep all shelters in the city open for 24 hours instead of 12 tomorrow.

"We're going to encourage people to stay inside and watch the parade." Chappelle said.

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