The federal government and the D.C. Coalition for the Homeless yesterday proposed placing 40 trailers on District government property for use as short-term shelters for the city's homeless, but there was no immediate indication whether Mayor Marion Barry would approve the plan.
Dixon Arnett, a deputy undersecretary for Health and Human Services, said that with Barry's consent the trailers could be in operation within two to four weeks so that the squalid, 800-bed shelter operated by the Community for Creative Non-Violence at 425 Second St. NW then could be closed.
Arnett said the 30- to 90-day use of the trailers would give the coalition, a private advocacy group for the city's homeless, time to renovate several buildings, most of them city-owned, for use as long-term shelters.
The HHS official, who has been overseeing the government's efforts to close the federally owned Second Street shelter operated by the private, nonprofit CCNV, said he believes that Barry "will cooperate. We have every hope of this. There are no assurances. We hope to get them."
The mayor's office said it had no comment on the trailer plan while the proposal is being studied.
Barry has repeatedly said that it is the responsibility of the federal government, not the city government, to honor a pledge President Reagan made two days before his reelection last fall to turn the Second Street shelter into a "model" facility, a promise prompted by a 51-day fast by CCNV leader Mitch Snyder. Negotiations between Snyder and federal officials over the extent of the renovations broke down in mutual recriminations, leading to federal efforts to close the facility.
Snyder scoffed at the latest plan, saying, "That's a ridiculous solution. I don't see any way it would withstand judicial scrutiny."
U.S. District Judge Charles R. Richey recently ruled that the federal government could close the Second Street shelter, but not before finding alternative shelters. CCNV has appealed the decision.
Arnett, who a week ago said Barry had "abdicated the capital city's obligation to the homeless" by not seeking to resolve the dispute over the Second Street shelter, yesterday described the trailer plan as "a new opportunity to put some of the unfortunate rhetoric behind us."
Under the proposal, the federal government would give the coalition $2.7 million to rent and operate the trailers and help renovate buildings for the long-term shelters. Arnett said that Susan Baker, wife of Secretary of the Treasury James A. Baker, has agreed to head a private, local fund-raising effort to provide more money for homeless facilities here.
Arnett said the government would provide medical personnel to screen the 600 homeless men and women who sleep at the Second Street shelter and refer them to social service providers and provide transportation for the homeless to the new shelters, a one-time supply of surplus government equipment and furniture and regular shipments of surplus military food.
The plan calls for locating 14 trailers at Blair School, at 611 I St. NE, which is already used as a shelter, and 14 at the vacant Nichols Avenue School, at Howard Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE. In addition, six shelters would be put at the Pierce School, 14th and G streets NE, which now is used as a shelter, and six would be put at the old Wax Museum parking lot, Fifth and K streets NW.
He said that each of the 40 trailers could house 15 men, for a total of 600, and that a total of 85 women could be housed at two other facilities, Luther Place at 14th and N streets NW and the House of Ruth at 651 10th St. NE.
"The scattered sites are designed to enhance the cooperation and understanding of various communities," Arnett said, although residents in several D.C. communities have voiced opposition in recent days as various sites have been mentioned as possible locations for shelters.
Arnett and Elizabeth Huguenin, president of the coalition, identified the possible long-term shelter sites as the Wax Museum, the Nichols Avenue School, the Gospel Mission at 477 H St. NW, a building at 2901 14th St. NW, Bundy School at Fourth and Q streets NW, Luther Place and the House of Ruth.