Washington's Roman Catholic archbishop yesterday called for national policies that show "a real commitment to social and economic justice," and he urged religious groups to increase their involvement in meeting the needs of the destitute.
Archbishop James A. Hickey, speaking at the official dedication of a controversial 25-bed shelter for homeless men, praised the joint effort by Montgomery County, the church and the military in establishing the Carroll House at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center's Forest Glen facility near Silver Spring.
But, Hickey said, volunteer efforts "cannot take the place of fair national policies and a real commitment to social and economic justice."
The archbishop did not specifically attack the Reagan administration. It is useless to "attack one party or the other," he said in an interview after the ceremony. "It's not a Democratic or a Republican problem." Hickey said a bipartisan effort is needed to solve the problems of the poor.
Hickey said during the interview that although the nation faces serious budget problems, including the growing deficit, "we must be concerned with those who have lost their jobs and have nowhere to go.
"I keep thinking of policies that close hospital facilities. . . . I keep thinking of company towns where the company just closes out," he said.
During yesterday's shelter dedication, Hickey called on religious groups to increase their involvement in helping the poor. "I think it's something the whole religious community can be a part of. . . . The moral test of any society is how we care for the least and lost and those that are left out among us."
Montgomery County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist joined Hickey in criticizing the lack of federal government support for services for the poor. "There is something missing in the national priorities that permits people to be on the streets without a roof over their head," he said.
Gilchrist said the shelter was a "clear statement from the county that special attention will be provided for men who do not share in the riches of economic growth this region enjoys." He said the county plans to increase funds for basic services to the needy next year.
The shelter for homeless men opened Nov. 27 despite angry protests by local residents concerned about their own security.
In response, the county signed a police-protection agreement with the U.S. Army, which has jurisdiction over the grounds where the facility is located. The Army agreed to add a second car to patrol the grounds.
The archdiocese is providing around-the-clock security at the facility itself, while the county is increasing police patrols in the surrounding community.
The county spent $40,000 to renovate the facility, which is operated by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington.
Men will be bused from the Silver Spring Soup Kitchen each night at 6 p.m. and bused out each morning to drop-off points in Silver Spring and Wheaton