The D.C. Board of Education agreed yesterday to permit use of two unused student athletic buildings near the Duke Ellington School in Georgetown as shelters for up to 30 homeless people.
Also yesterday, the city government opened on an emergency basis a shelter for 25 to 30 persons at 1436 Irving St. NW.
The school board agreed to turn over the two small athletic buildings at 38th and R streets NW to the Georgetown Clergy Association to operate as shelters until March 31.
Alluding to a voter initiative overwhelmingly passed by D.C. voters last fall mandating city provision of shelters for the homeless, school board President R. David Hall said, "I think that people understand what they voted for . . . so if it means preventing the street people from freezing to death, as opposed to having a building stand empty, then I think we are doing the right thing."
The Rev. William Wegener, chairman of the Georgetown Clergy Association and pastor of Georgetown Lutheran Church, said he has been looking around the Georgetown area for some time hoping to find a facility to use as a shelter.
"We have approached the school board before but were turned down, but I just learned about these buildings last Friday and I expect to have some homeless people in here tonight, " Wegener said.
Wegener met with Hall and school board member Wanda Washburn (D-Ward 3) yesterday for a last-minute inspection of the buildings, where a cleanup crew was mopping puddles of water and sealing windows.
"We won't have beds tonight and we may not have heat in one of the houses for awhile but I'm sure we won't have any problem providing a decent place for these people who are in the streets now," Wegener said.
Some neighbors of the hastily arranged facility expressed misgivings about its suitability.
"I think you are going to be doing those homeless people a big injustice if you put them in these delapidated buildings," a man who identified himself as Col. Robert B. Curtis and said he has been a Georgetown resident for 28 years shouted to Hall and Wegener.
Sue Ellis, who lives across the street, said she first heard of the shelter yesterday and doubted it would succeed. "I voted for the initiative and I care what happens to the homeless, but I also know that the city has not properly cared for that lot in the past and I seriously doubt they will do anything different now," said Ellis.
"Who is going to watch the men after they leave the facility and who will prevent them from roaming around in our back yards ? . . . This cannot work out . . . not in this neighborhood," she said.
Hall said that "Whatever the outcry is I think that we have to protect peoples' lives first."
On Irving Street NW, the shelter hastily opened by the city in the heart of the heavily Hispanic Adams-Morgan community can accommodate up to 30 persons, a spokeswoman for the District said.
A spokesman for La Morado, a Hispanic community organization, said it will operate the shelter, primarily for Spanish-speaking persons. It will be open until spring.