District of Columbia officials yesterday told a congressional panel they are doing all they can for the growing number of homeless persons with the money available, and that anyone asking for emergency overnight shelter gets it.
"To the extent they present themselves to the facilities, they are cared for," said James A. Buford, director of the D.C. Department of Human Services, at a hearing of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the District. The city furnishes up to 500 beds a night, and these are never filled to capacity, he said.
While Buford estimated there are about 2,000 homeless people, the Community for Creative Non-Violence, an activist community group, in earlier testimony yesterday, put the figure at between 5,000 and 10,000.
Other private groups in recent weeks have said that their shelters have been jammed with homeless persons, and some are having to turn people away.
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), subcommittee chairman and the only member present at the hearing yesterday, cited various news accounts of the increasing numbers of homeless people nationwide and here, and said the hearing was intended to get more information on what should be done about the problem. Specter said Mayor Marion Barry will take him on a tour of the city's emergency shelters today.
The activist group's Mitch Snyder charged at the hearing that the death last week of Freddie, a Georgetown street person for 25 years who apparently froze to death in a phone booth, is a result of a city policy requiring that men leave the shelters early in the morning when it is still dark and cold.
Freddie had been at the newly opened Bundy emergency shelter one night shortly before his death, but would not return because of the policy, Snyder said.
But Buford said that two of the three larger shelters funded by the city stay open all day if temperatures are below freezing.
Bruce Glover, a senior DHS official, testified that at Bundy the men must leave before 7 regardless of the weather, a rule that was necessary to overcome community resistance to the shelter, but that they can get bus rides to other shelters.