Federal officials, angered by activist Mitch Snyder's refusal to bargain with them about plans to renovate a downtown Washington shelter for the homeless, said yesterday they are withdrawing from a partnership with Snyder and will seek to interest the city or private agencies in running the 800-bed facility or providing services to its residents.
"I think Mitch has made it clear that he doesn't want any part of this agreement," said Charles Baker, undersecretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, "and I'm not going to waste my time. I'm very tired of this . . . . we are seriously exploring other alternatives."
Yesterday's statements by Baker and other federal officials about the fate of the squalid shelter at 425 Second Street NW were the latest chapter in an increasingly acrimonious relationship between Snyder, leader of the Community for Creative Non-Violence, and the federal government.
The unlikely partnership was forged two days before last November's election when Snyder, 42, a nationally known activist, agreed to end a 51-day hunger strike after President Reagan personally promised to transform the shelter into a "model physical shelter structure."
The administration did not specify how much money it would spend, but agreed to make certain renovations that it estimated would cost between $2 million and$5 million.
Since then the federal government and CCNV have argued about what repairs would be made, who would make them and how much the proposed renovations would cost. Snyder said the repairs proposed by the General Services Administration are merely a "patch job" that would leave CCNV "stuck with a building that would fall apart the minute the feds walk away."
Federal officials have called Snyder, the subject of an upcoming television movie, a publicity hound who is trying to "bully" them into renovations that could cost$10 million.
Negotiations fell apart two days ago, after a meeting described by both sides as fruitless. At a press conference, Snyder denounced the officials with whom he had been dealing and said that he did not want "to talk to anyone but the president anymore."
The White House has refused to comment on the matter, referring inquiries to HHS.
"As far as I'm concerned, he Snyder has taken himself out of the game," said Baker.
District officials, who were excluded from last November's agreement at Snyder's request, said they would refuse to take over the operation of the shelter, which they regard as unmanageable because of its size and condition.
Conditions at the shelter have further deteriorated since last fall. The stench of urine and sweat pervades the airless, rat-infested building, which is strewn with garbage. There are six toilets and two showers for 500 men. Most windows have been smashed.
HHS officials said they might offer to give the city the money earmarked for CCNV if the District agreed to provide beds in existing shelters or build new facilities.
"We will give close consideration to any proposal that HHS would offer," said Robert Malson, senior adviser to Audrey Rowe, the city's commissioner of social services.
HHS officials spent much of yesterday making contingency plans for the shelter. Although officials said that there are no immediate plans to evict CCNV from the federally owned building rented to the group for $1 a year, HHS was trying to mobilize a team to run the shelter should CCNV walk out.
"We can't walk away," said Snyder, whose group has run the shelter for two years. "We have to find some other solution . . . Only the president can resolve this mess."