Mayor Marion S. Barry yesterday gave his official blessing to a proposed comprehensive program of privately staffed, decentralized shelters for the city's homeless "street people" and appointed a 27-member advisory commission to help get it started.
"Shelter is a basic human right," said Barry at a District Building press conference at which he outlined the new program that will replace the present makeshift system of shelters operated by the city's Department of Human Resources.
Already, the staffing at one shelter -- the old Pierce School at 14th and G streets NE -- has been turned over on a temporary basis to the Community for Creative Non-Violence, the radical Christian group that has led the demand for abolition of city-run shelters.
Under the new program outlined by Barry yesterday, a network of small, scattered shelters and reception centers would be set up, mostly in downtown areas where so-called "street people" and other homeless indigents tend to congregate.
Screening, registration and most other bureaucratic formalities would be eliminated -- a key factor, according to advocates, in attracting many hardcore, emotionally disturbed vagrants who do not like or trust the city-run shelters and prefer to sleep on heating grates outdoors and in other places.
The shelters and staff workers would be provided by "the private sector" -- churches, community organizations, business groups -- and DHR would provide meals, supplies and other necessities, DHR director Albert P. Russo said after the mayor's press conference.
At his press conference, Barry called on business, labor, religious and community leaders "to join the Barry administration in ensuring adequate shelter for every person in need in the nation's capital."
The new Advisory Commission on Homelessness appointed by Barry consists of the same 27 church and community activists who served on an ad hoc "oversight" committee last month to monitor the city's shelter program.
It was that committee, chaired by the Rev. Don Bruce Lowe, pastor of Christ United Methodist Church, that proposed the decentralized, privately operated shelter program embraced by Barry yesterday. Barry appointed Lowe chairman of the advisory commission and said he would add business and labor representatives to it.