Neighborhood Unites in Opposing Shelter

James Chaney-Bey, center, who has been homeless before and whose housing is now in jeopardy, debates with Calvin Woodland, right, who opposes the relocation of the Central Union Mission homeless shelter to Georgia Avenue on the edge of the Petworth and Columbia Heights neighborhoods.
James Chaney-Bey, center, who has been homeless before and whose housing is now in jeopardy, debates with Calvin Woodland, right, who opposes the relocation of the Central Union Mission homeless shelter to Georgia Avenue on the edge of the Petworth and Columbia Heights neighborhoods. (By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
By Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 29, 2006

Cliff Valenti is part of a wave of young professionals migrating to a long-tattered stretch of Northwest Washington. Buddy Moore is among the older homeowners who eyed the newcomers warily, fretting that they would price them out.

Now they have found a common cause, one uniting blacks and whites, renters and owners, plumbers and computer experts: stopping construction of a 170-bed homeless shelter on Georgia Avenue.

After work one night, Valenti, 34, traveled from his job as a software developer to join a cluster demonstrating in front of the site on the edge of the Columbia Heights and Petworth neighborhoods, where Central Union Mission plans to relocate.

There were also longtime residents, including a librarian and a school bus monitor, who fumed that the shelter would sink property values and lure more beggars to an ever-more-pricey neighborhood still rife with poverty.

"This transcends age, race and gender," said Moore, a retired bank clerk. "We see it as someone with power and money ramming something down our throats."

The section of Georgia Avenue is lined with fast-food joints, nail salons, a pawnshop and liquor stores, including one next door to where the shelter would open. But as developers have sped eastward across the city, investors have discovered the strip.

A hip bar with dark wood walls, chandeliers and a pool table opened downstairs from a yoga studio. Granite-laden lofts were completed a few blocks south. A billboard promises 150 more condos.

With the traces of a renaissance have come new homeowners, many of them white. Their neighbors, many of them black, worried that rising home prices would jack up property taxes. But they soon discovered shared concerns: too many vagrants, too many boarded-up buildings, too many drug dealers. And what about that other fixture, the strip club with the metal doors and the sign advertising "Girls Girls"?

Yet nothing has unified them quite like the prospect of a homeless shelter.

"This neighborhood has been depressed for years," said Darren Jones, 46, holding a picket sign reading "Bad Place for a Shelter."

"This shelter is going to stunt the development coming to Georgia Avenue."

Nearby, Lauri Hafventstein, a Web producer who moved from Georgetown, agreed: "It's a neighborhood that's still fragile. This shelter, right now, could tip the balance in the wrong direction."


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