Federal officials, who have rescinded an agreement with Mitch Snyder to renovate a shelter for the homeless in downtown Washington, are considering telling Snyder to leave the facility, closing it down and giving the renovation money to the D.C. government for alternative housing.
"I don't want to make it sound like we've got our guns loaded, because we don't, but this is where I see Mitch has put us," said Dixon Arnett, deputy undersecretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Arnett said the squalid shelter, which President Reagan pledged last fall to turn into a model, is so "unsafe and uninhabitable" that it may be razed.
Snyder, a nationally known activist who heads the Community for Creative Non-Violence, said his group has no intention of voluntarily leaving the shelter that it rents for $1 a year from the federal government.
"This doesn't surprise me at all," said Snyder, who earlier this week accused HHS officials of "wasting his time" and announced he would deal only with President Reagan. "I hope they do that. It'll make it very clear to all sort of people what the federal government is up to."
The plan by HHS to close the rat-infested building comes a day after officials announced they were trying to interest the District or private agencies in assuming operation of the 800-bed shelter, one of the nation's largest. Yesterday at a hastily called meeting of the Mayor's Commission on Homelessness, both the city and private agencies flatly rejected that option because of the size and condition of the building at 425 Second St. NW, once the site of now-defunct Federal City College.
"I'd consider jumping off the Calvert Street Bridge before I'd consider that," said the Rev. Tom Nees, whose Community of Hope Church operates a shelter in Adams-Morgan. Nees said he essentially told that to federal officials who approached him several months ago about the possibility of taking over the CCNV shelter.
Nees, a member of the Commission on Homelessness, said city Social Services Commissioner Audrey Rowe said at the meeting that any private group that attempts to operate the CCNV shelter should not expect help from the District.
City officials, excluded from the agreement struck two days before last November's election by Reagan and Snyder, then near death in the 51st day of a highly publicized hunger strike, reacted cautiously.
"We understand the federal governent is preparing a proposal which we expect would be presented to us today ," said Robert Malson, a top aide to Rowe who has been negotiating with HHS. "As soon as they have shared their thoughts with us, we will be prepared to respond quickly."
Arnett said city officials have expressed interest in accepting the $2.7 million HHS allocated to repair the shelter. "We're not going to be saying to the city, you have to provide a certain number of beds," he said.
While city and federal officials negotiate, Snyder said he plans to hold a sit-in today in front of the White House. He said he hopes his action will persuade the president to authorize $10 million in renovations for the shelter, rather than the "patch job" he said HHS proposes.
Although there is considerable disagreement on renovations, both federal officials and CCNV agree that conditions at the shelter are deplorable, far worse than last fall.
CCNV's critics say much of the poor condition is the direct result of the group's anarchic style. CCNV says it represents the inevitable deterioration of a building constructed more than 40 years ago as temporary office space.