Seven women demonstrators who staged a sit-in protest for nearly 14 hours outside Mayor Marion Barry's office in the District Building were arrested just after midnight today.
The demonstrators were protesting the closing yesterday morning of the only city-operated facility for homeless women at 456-458 C St. NW. Five of the women had been residents of the shelter. The other two had been volunteer workers there.
City police and security guards carried six of the women to a waiting police wagon. A seventh-demonstrator hobbled out on crutches.
The arrests were made as a crowd of about 25 persons sympathetic to the demontrators sang and applauded.
The protesters were charged with unlawful entry, according to D.C. Police Inspector Bryant Hopkins, who supervised the arrests.
The mayor's press secretary, Florence Tate, said Barry wanted the police simply to remove the women from the building and lock the doors behind them. However, she said she understood the police were required to make arrests if the protesters did not leave voluntarily.
Mayoral aide Sam Jordan, who was at the District Building, said he made the decision to have the women arrested. Jordan ordered two television camera crews and a Post reporter to leave the building moments before the arrests were made.
Department of Human Resources Director Al Russo also at the District Building, said the approximately 50 women who had been using the C Street shelter would be placed in temporary shelters at private group homes and motels in the area until the women can be interviewed to determine their "long term needs."
The C Street facility - two attached townhouses - is owned by the Canadian Embassy, which plans to tear it down and construct a new embassy as part of the Pennsylvania Avenue redevelopment plan. The shelter was opened last January to help get homeless women off the streets during the winter.
The volunteers who had staffed the shelter, and the Department of Human Resources, which supplied the building, bedding and food, have been at odds over the fate of the women, most of them "shopping cart women" who drift the streets in daylight clutching bundles and bags.
Before the shelter existed, they slept on steam grates.
"These women have been through so many social workers, so much paper work, that they know the system doesn't work for them," says Renate Schlichting, one of the shelter's original volunteers. "We don't ask them any questions; we don't want them to feel institutionalized, says another long term volunteer, John Gee.
It is the very lack of questions that disturbs the District government. "The ladies are not being served (with financial aid); we can't help them if we can't identify them," said mayoral special assistant Warren Graves.
Graves and other government officials maintain that the women will be rehoused in existing facilities after they have been interviewed and their problems identified.
DHR lists the House of Ruth, a privately run shelter with some government funding, as an alternative shelter for the C Street women.
Christine Lubinski, Coordinator of the House of Ruth at 651 10th St. NE, says that her shelter is already running at capacity. "We want to be helpful," she said."But we can guarantee only one night at a time. We can always feed people, but sleeping arrangements are going to be a problem."
The women in question seem reluctant to talk to anyone they perceive as a social worker. Earlier this week they talked a little to a reporter about their lives, their problems and even gave their names. But a volunteer, well with forms in hand was fiercely rebuffed.
Some are physically disbaled, and more than a few have mental or emotional problems. Some simply don't have anywhere to go," said Robin Maas, acting chairman of the Mayor's Committee on Homelessness. Many "are not ready for the change" to a more structured environment, Maas said.
"It's a temporary residence and everybody needs one," said a thin, fine-boned woman named Shirley about the shelter as she nervously smoked a cigarette. "It's indoors from the lonesome that's out there."
The last night was a long one at the shelter.
The residents and dinner-hour volunteers arrived together at 5 p.m. Together they opened the doors and entered the high-ceiling, pre-Civil War townhouse. A hot dinner of black eyed peas cooked with bones (no meat in evidence), cold bologna sandwiches, juice and coffee was served in the upstairs dining room. There was no charge. The city paid for the food.
Sister Karen Marie of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary alternated between ladling the food onto paper plates and standing between combatant women. She quietly moved one woman from the room. It was peaceful for about one minute. Another fight started, this time, over the food.
"We come here to be helpful," said the nun. "They have no families, no provisions. We sometimes talk religion but mostly we just listen."
The nun and another volunteer left at 8 p.m. The second shift of volunteers arrived. There were only two.
Mary, 23, calls herself a professional volunteer. She agreed to be photographed but did not want her last name used. The other volunteer is a social worker and a Grey Panther. She is Jerry Brittain.
Together they spent the next 12 hours listening to lengthy personal stories, finding additional bed spaces, changing room assignments when a fight started, offering moral support and hugs, and finally, making a breakfast of hot oatmeal (without milk), juice and coffee.
One particularly striking woman spent the evening eating dinner by herself and then gazing out a side window at deserted C. Street. She chain smoked Kools. She spoke little but between long pauses she detailed her route to the shelter.
Audrey Jean McClellan, 56, says she killed her husband after her nervous breakdown ten years ago. She never went to trial but spent the next few years in a mental hospital. Afterward, she lived with her father and worked as a waitress. Then she lived with her son who died.
She was most recently a patient at St. Elizabeths and from there she took an apartment in Maryland. Then she came to the shelter on C Street.
McClellan is worried about her future. She doesn't want to go back to St. Elizabeths. She stared out of the window at the darkening sky. "I just want to be left alone," she said.
Later, at about 1 a.m., she settled into a spot on the third floor landing. She said she had been disturbed by another resident in the room they shared and would sleep on the floor.
She carefully arranged her two large shopping bags at head and feet. She placed her shopping cart behind her and used a coat for a blanket. At 5:30 a.m. she was back at her window staring at the nearby parking lot and smoking a cigarette. CAPTION: Picture 1, Women's Center on C Street NW was "indoors from the lonesome that's out there," said a resident. By Linda Wheeler - The Washington Post; Picture 2, Security guards carry one of seven women protesters from District Building early today. By Fred Sweets - The Washington Post