Thomas B. Hargrave Jr., president of the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington, told United Way officials last October that the Anthony Bowen YMCA branch must be moved out of Shaw because maintaining a major facility there would hurt the YMCA financially.
"The long-range outlook for that area demands that we locate the branch in another area of the city," Hargrave said in an Oct. 23 letter that suggests the Shaw area in Northwest Washington is too poor to support a full-service YMCA facility.
"We plan to build a first class YMCA for District families, which is projected to cost over $3 million," he wrote to United Way officials who fund inner-city YMCA programs. "It must be placed in a 'bridge' community where both lower- and middle-income families will have access to it. If we locate in the wrong area, it could prove to be a financial burden to the association."
The future of the Bowen branch has been a volatile issue since the YMCA board of directors closed the historic 70-year-old building for safety and financial reasons on Feb. 23. Bowen's local management committee and a group of Shaw community activists have urged the YMCA to renovate and possibly expand Bowen at or near its inner-city site at 12th and S streets NW.
YMCA officials, including Hargrave, have been generally noncommittal on that question since the closing, saying that they are weighing the 12th Street site as well as others around the city. However, Hargrave's letter, while noting the local sentiment to keep Bowen at its present site, declares that the branch must relocate.
Hargrave declined Tuesday to discuss the letter to United Way, but he said in an earlier interview that it reflected only his personal opinion. He said no final decision has been made on the fate of the Bowen building or on the new location for a YMCA.
A copy of the letter was obtained by The Washington Post.
A 1980 YMCA staff study of the Shaw-Cardozo section of Northwest describes it as having "a very high percentage of individuals and families that are caught in a perpetual state of poverty." The study, intended to chart the future of the Bowen branch, said many poor residents were in desperate need of YMCA services because of rising crime and disease rates accompanied by attitudes of "resentment, hostility, despair, apathy."
Hargrave has maintained that needy youngsters such as those in Shaw can only be served if the YMCA carefully selects a site that can draw a group with enough economic diversity to financially support a YMCA.
With his letter, Hargrave attached a newspaper report in which the YMCA said it was forced to close a Chester, Pa., facility because that city had grown too poor to support two YMCA branches. "Because YMCAs have not considered this problem, it is a sad fact that we are now getting reports of far too many inner city YMCAs that are being forced to close," he said.
Critics of the Bowen closing said Hargrave's letter shows that the association has become too concerned with its income, at the expense of its mission of serving youth. William Rumsey, chairman of Bowen's management committee, said Hargrave's "thinking is not to put it in the inner-city where the needs are, but where the Y can derive benefits from it."
Ibrahim Mumin, executive director of the Shaw Project Area Committee, said the YMCA "has shifted its mission. They are operating as a corporation now, looking at dollars and cents. I really don't think they are facing the social and human needs they were intended to serve."
Hargrave has stressed that regardless of the future location of Bowen, the YMCA would continue serving young people and families in the Shaw area. If the YMCA decides to build a new facility outside the neighborhood, for instance, it might maintain a smaller "satellite" facility within Shaw. He also said the YMCA has shown its commitment to Shaw residents by the planned opening next week of a temporary facility at 1307 W St. NW.
Yesterday, however, the Bowen YMCA's camera club, founded in 1940, announced that it would not use the new site because it is located "in a high drug traffic area where many homicides have occurred."