A controversial shelter for homeless people in Georgetown, which had been operating since mid-January in two vacant school buildings, was closed yesterday by District school officials because of complaints that the temporary facility was inadequately supervised, a situation that had led to noise and other problems in the neighborhood.
The closing of the two one-story buildings at 38th and R streets NW was denounced immediately by the Rev. William E. Wegener, chairman of the Georgetown Clergy Association, which had operated the shelter since Jan. 17.
Wegener, who is pastor of Georgetown Lutheran Church, said he was "shocked. We're concerned about the homeless, that they're not going to get the care they need."
D.C. School Superintendent Floretta D. McKenzie said the shelter was ordered shut because of inadequate supervision. "There were protracted problems with supervision, almost from the beginning," she said. "The group that leased it weren't living up to their commitment."
The Georgetown Clergy Association had leased the two vacant athletic buildings, which belong to the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, from the D.C. Board of Education. The lease was to expire March 31. Wegener said the lease entailed no rental fee but required the association to pay an estimated $3,000 in utility costs.
The shelter, open nightly from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., had provided sleeping quarters and hot meals for about 30 homeless persons. Wegener said the shelter's staff and volunteer workers offered medical and psychiatric care along with job counseling.
The school board's agreement to lease the buildings previously had set off complaints from neighborhood residents. Shortly after the shelter opened, residents of the Burleith community north of Georgetown, adopted a resolution citing security and other issues.
Wegener said that most complaints dealt with noise and drunkenness. He contended that the shelter was adequately supervised but said the staff could not prevent incidents elsewhere in the neighborhood. "We're not aware of any crime," he added.
McKenzie said school officials "are sensitive to people not being homeless in the cold," but noted that warmer weather has occurred in recent days. In addition, she said, the shelter housed a "very small number" of homeless persons. "It was a very difficult decision," she added.
School board President R. David Hall could not be reached yesterday for comment.
Shelter officials said a letter ordering them to close the buildings was received from a school administrator Friday afternoon. They said they vacated the shelter yesterday morning. Wegener said officials were weighing possible moves to reopen the facility.