Because of an editing error, an article yesterday incorrectly reported developments in a court challenge to a voter initiative that would require the District to provide overnight shelter for the homeless. The city's lawsuit against the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics will be heard after Tuesday's election.
An initiative that would require the District to provide overnight shelter to the homeless will remain on the Nov. 6 ballot.
D.C. Superior Court Judge Nicholas S. Nunzio, who last week agreed to expedite a decision on the contested initiative at the city's request, decided instead to let the initiative stand yesterday, saying the issue was too important to be decided in the few remaining days before the election.
City officials, who had taken the issue to court in an attempt to block the vote, said they will not appeal the ruling, assuring that Initiative 17 will appear on the ballot.
Stephen O'Neil, leader of a group that gathered about 32,000 signatures to place the initiative on the ballot, said he was delighted with Nunzio's about-face.
"I'm very glad that he's giving people in Washington a chance to vote on providing shelter and taking people off the streets," O'Neil said. "We have confidence that the electorate of Washington is going to make a just and fair decision."
Edward Norton, chairman of the D.C. Board on Elections and Ethics, which had asked Nunzio to reconsider last week's decision, also was pleased. "The purpose of the initiative is to allow voters to express their views on matters of public importance," he said. "This decision, by assuring that opportunity, is one the board is very pleased with."
Attorneys for the District had pressed Nunzio for court resolution of their lawsuit before the election after another judge ruled last week that the city was likely to prevail in its claim that the initiative was improper but refused to strike it from the ballot.
City officials maintain that the initiative would improperly interfere with the budget process.
The initiative, which would give the homeless legal entitlement to shelter at taxpayer expense, has stirred controversy and divided advocates of the homeless. The city could have appealed the earlier ruling to the D.C. Court of Appeals but has chosen not to, said Martin Grossman, deputy corporation counsel.
"We brought it in front of all the judges that are authorized to rule on the subject in Superior Court. They have left it on the ballot," Grossman said. "We continue to contend that it's an inappropriate subject for initiative."
Under Nunzio's ruling, the question of whether the initiative is proper or nor will not be decided after the election.
Some maintain that it would create a local government policy of "warehousing" the homeless while relieving federal authorities of any responsibility.
City officials acknowledge that they have no precise estimates of what the initiative might cost. Estimates on the number of homeless people in the city range from 5,000 to 15,000, and officials say it could cost up to $60 million to house all of them.
The District now provides 753 beds for the homeless, or about one third of the shelter space available. If the initiative were approved, they maintain, private groups that currently provide shelter would discontinue their services, shifting the burden to taxpayers.
Proponents measure insist that the initiative would not force the city to spend more on shelters than it does now.