Chanting "Do what you said you would," about 200 residents of a downtown Washington shelter for the homeless marched on the White House yesterday to protest the planned closing of the building and urge President Reagan to renovate the facility he promised to turn into a "model."
Police, who escorted the protestors on their march from the shelter at 425 Second St. NW, said there were no arrests during the two-hour demonstration led by Mitch Snyder. Snyder is the leader of the Community for Creative Non-Violence, the advocacy group that operates the 800-bed shelter, which federal officials plan to close next month.
The demonstrators, some of whom were confined to wheelchairs, carried a large canvas banner that said "Mr. President, You Promised." Others carried smaller, hand-lettered signs which read "Ron, Spend a Night With Us" and "Gimme Shelter."
Shortly after 9:30 a.m., the marchers left the shelter, some clutching their possessions -- tattered woolen coats, stained blankets and worn shopping bags. Tourists and construction workers gaped as the chanting, ragtag group snaked through downtown Washington, temporarily halting traffic on its way to the White House.
On July 5 a federal judge is scheduled to consider whether to dismiss a lawsuit brought by CCNV against the administration, which last week announced it planned to close the shelter July 10 and help relocate its residents to city facilities.
"It's terrible in there," one of the marchers, 59-year-old Arritha Hunter, said of the run-down building. Hunter displayed what she said were insect bites on her face.
When they reached the White House, protestors marched briefly and then, at Snyder's request, knelt on the sidewalk and prayed. Snyder asked them to pray for release of the hostages in Beirut and "for the hostages at 425 Second St. NW." He then asked that "the president of the United States who gave his word to us seven months ago should keep it."
Two days before last November's election Reagan pledged to transform the squalid 40-year-old building into a "model physical shelter structure" on the condition that Snyder end a 51-day hunger strike that had attracted worldwide attention.
Since then, both parties have argued about which repairs would be made, who would make them and how much they would cost. Snyder said the repairs proposed by the federal government are an unacceptable "patch job." Federal officials have said Snyder is trying to bully them into spending as much as $10 million. Instead the administration has announced it will give the District government at least $2.7 million to open new shelters