A special committee of community activists, church volunteers and itinerant "street people" proposed yesterday a comprehensive program of privately staffed, decentralized shelters for Washington's homeless indigents to replace the present makeshift system of city-run shelters.
Department of Human Resources officials, who had helped establish the special committee, indicated they would relay the proposal to Mayor Marion Barry early next week along with a companion proposal that Barry create an advisory commission on the homeless to oversee the new program.
"This is a good proposal," said William W. Barr, head of DHR's social rehabilitation administration, after he and other DHR officials met with the committee yesterday.
Under the proposal, DHR would contract with churches, community organizations and other private groups to staff a series of small, scattered shelters and abandon the three present DHR-staffed facilities located in two vacant school buildings in Northeast and a converted town house in Northwest.
DHR, which has ben running the makeshift program for almost a year and paying overtime to 30 to 40 regular DHR employes to work each night at the facilities, is anxious to get out of the business and turn it over to private contractors.
For its part, the special committee says its proposal, which would pool government, church and private business resources, would create more humane conditions for homeless "street people."
The proposal comes at the end of a 30-day experiment by DHR to see if more "street people" could be attracted to city-run shelters by eliminating traditional screening procedures and other bureaucratic formalities that some critics say intimidate many hard-core itinerants who choose instead to sleep on heating grates and in other outdoor places.
The experiment was inconclusive. The nightly head count fluctuated irregularly at the three shelters -- Blair School at Sixth and I streets NE, Pierce School at 14th and G streets NE and a temporary facility at 458 C St. NW but DHR workers said they saw few new faces among the many "regulars" at the shelters.
The experiment stemmed from demands by the Community for Creative Non-Violence, a radical Christian group pushing for a reduction in regimentation and other changes.
Along with the experiment, DHR director Albert P. Russo also agreed to establishment of a special 30-member "oversight committee" to monitor the experiment, the same committee that proposed the decentralized, privately staffed shelter program yesterday.
Chaired by the Rev. Don Bruce Lowe, pastor of Christ United Methodist Church at Fourth and I streets SW, the committee said shelters should be within "walking distance" of street people. Where that is impossible, reception centers should be established with transportation provided to the shelters.
A major emphasis of the proposal was that the shelters be informal and unregimented. "Guests must not be herded or ordered but at all times treated courteously and with respect," the committee's written proposal said.
"We have built a wall between ourselves and those who have no place to lay their heads," the committee said. "That wall must come down, and it must come down now."