The city's newly formed advisory Commission on the Homeless said yesterday it will ask Mayor Marion Barry to take legal action, if necessary, to try to stop the U.S. Marshal's Service from conducting Saturday evictions in Washington.
Twenty marshals, their $16.50 hourly overtime salaries paid by a landlords' organization, evicted 64 families last Saturday, according to the marshal's service, in an effort to reduce the city's backlog of some 4,000 eviction cases.
Blocking the weekend evictions "is a moral issue," said D.C. Social Services Commissioner Audrey Rowe, adding that the weekend evictions left families particularly vulnerable because courts and social service agencies were closed, as were banks, for those families who might have had the money to avoid eviction.
Rowe said city officials have questioned the legality of weekend evictions, but a spokesman for the marshal's service said yesterday he knew of no legal prohibition against it. "I don't see any grounds for not doing it," said spokesman Werner Koehler, "We are carrying out an order of the court." Many court orders are carried out on weekends, he said.
Evictions normally are carried out only on weekdays, but the Saturday efforts began with an agreement between the marshals and the city Apartment and Office Building Association. Landlords, who once could get evictions within 30 days of receiving the necessary court documents, complained of a backlog of two months, according to AOBA.
Meanwhile, in an effort to cope with the city's growing number of homeless persons as winter approaches, Rowe told the commission that the city plans in December to open the former Bundy school for the handicapped at Fourth and O streets NW as a temporary shelter for up to 200 persons. The city currently has public and private shelter space for about 750 individuals and 250 families.
Rowe said details of the Bundy move have not yet been worked out, but said the city would be seeking private donations of food, clothing, and blankets for the facility.
The Commission on Homelessness, set up last month by Barry as part of the settlement of a federal lawsuit, delegated Rowe, a commission member, to discuss with the mayor any legal action to be taken concerning the Saturday evictions. A spokesman for Barry said had not yet been informed of the commission's action. Spokesmen for the city Corporation Counsel's office were not available for comment.
"Renting U.S. Marshals on Saturday is an inappropriate use of a government employe," said Dennis Bethea, a commission member who is director of social services at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Church.
The marshal's service had scheduled 104 evictions Saturday, but only performed 64 because some families came up with their overdue rent and because the teams of marshals did not move as fast as planned, officials said.
The mayor's emergency command center received 33 calls about the evictions and arranged to move furniture for eight families, officials said. The Department of Human Services brought in five workers on overtime to assist families, Rowe said. But the displaced families generally found housing with friends and relatives and the city did not have to provide emergency shelter for them, officials said.