The Department of Human Resources opened a new shelter for homeless men at the abandoned Blair Elementary School near 7th and 1 street NE last night. DHR closed its month-old operation at 456 C St. NW yesterday to open the Blair facility, increasing capacity from 77 men to more than 150, according to James Butts, deputy administration to DHR's Social Rehabilitation Administration.
Until the opening of 456 C St. last month, the only place for chronically homeless men and women to sleep - besides the street, steam grates, or public building halls as guards looked the other way - were two church basement shelters.
The Sojourners and the Community for Creative Non-Violence the Christian groups who run the church shelters at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Church, 16th and Newton streets NW, and Luther Place Memorial Church, 14th and N streets NW, for men and women, respectively, will keep their shelters open.
Twenty full-time DHR staffers will run the nightly 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. Blair school shelter, according to Butts. He said DHR had hoped to find a building in Northwest near the church shelters, but that since six people had frozen to death so far this winter, "time was very important." He said the Blair school was chosen because it could be used immediately.
Mitch Snyder, spokesman for the CCNV group, said they had been asking DHR to find a larger building, but that DHR did not respond with the Blair school offer until four members of the group "threatened to begin living on the sidewalk in front of the District Building to make it a public issue."
Butts denies any connection between the group's plan to live on the sidewalk and DHR's haste in arranging for the Blair shelter.
"We have worked with many groups besides these" on the project, he said.
CCNV and Sojourners canceled their plan to live on the sidewalks Tuesday afternoon when they were called about the Blair shelter.