Irate residents of the tiny Burleith community in Georgetown engaged in a verbal slugfest yesterday with members of the Georgetown Clergy Association, city officials and others over a controversial shelter for the homeless that was closed Saturday.
The no-holds-barred encounter outside the shelter in Burleith at 38th and R streets NW featured shelter proponents, one of whom sarcastically charged that "Georgetown is too good for the homeless," against residents of the community, who claimed that organizers "dumped" the homeless in the neighborhood with little supervision and left residents to deal with the after-effects.
"You guys are so self-righteous and unctuous," Maxine Combs, who lives near the shelter, said to a proponent of reopening it. "It's awfully bloody easy to be worried about the homeless when you go home every night."
The Rev. William E. Wegener, chairman of the Georgetown Clergy Association, which operated the shelter since it opened Jan. 17, said it provided "warm beds, hot meals, free medical attention and job counseling" for about 30 persons.
The shelter, two vacant athletic buildings that belong to the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, was leased to the clergy association by the D.C. Board of Education.
The lease, which was to expire March 31, was revoked Saturday "because of default on the user's responsibility to provide the supervision necessary for control" of ac- tivities there, according to a letter Wegener received from Andrew E. Weeks, director of the D.C. public school system's division of building and grounds.
"Transportation has been the most problematic issue," said Ruth Worthen, president of the Burleith Citizens Association. "When they the homeless come, they come at all times of the day and night."
Residents of Burleith, a small community just north of Georgetown, charged that homeless persons who stayed at the shelter were a general nuisance, throwing litter into yards, fighting among themselves, threatening residents of the neighborhood and creating loud disturbances.
"We do make a lot of runs up to the shelter," said a 2nd District police officer who sympathized with the residents.
Another member of the citizens association, Richard Price, said the shelter was a health hazard because until last week there was only one toilet and no showers. In addition, he said, supervisors "wouldn't let them bring alcohol into the shelter, so they'd sit outside and get drunk, insult women, leave their bottles on the lawns and then go inside to eat dinner."
One man, Price said, "threatened to kill me," then threatened to kill another neighbor and to set her house on fire.
However, argued Wegener, "The most significant thing about this is that eight of the 30 people at the shelter now have regular jobs, and they were hoping to have the rest of this month and March to stay there and save money so they could have enough for rent" when the shelter closed. "We are convinced this project deserves the chance to continue," he said.
"I think it's extremely important that level heads prevail," said Dennis D. Bethea, chief of the D.C. Office of Emergency Shelter and Support Services. "I am urging the Board of Education to reconsider closing the shelter."
Lawrence Guyot, who is on the board of directors of the Coalition for the Homeless, called the shelter closing "unconscionable" and said it signaled that "the boundaries of Georgetown are too good for the homeless." He said the coalition will "back a legal response immediately."
John Lydgate, who lives on 38th Street near the shelter and is a volunteer worker there, said that not everyone in the neighborhood thought the shelter should be closed. "Why should 10 percent of the troublemakers overrule the 90 percent" who are well-behaved, he asked.
"I've had people there say to me, 'Brother, help me. I need to talk to someone, I need someone to pray with.'
"If not me, who?"