Opposition from Anacostia residents will not force the federal government to back off its plans to open a temporary shelter for the homeless there, an official of the Department of Health and Human Services told community activists in a heated exchange yesterday.
"It's the only sane solution," James Hunter, acting deputy undersecretary for intergovernmental affairs, told shelter opponents during an impromptu meeting in the lobby of the HHS building after the group delivered a letter of protest to Secretary Margaret M. Heckler.
Hunter said that only a court order would prevent HHS and the D.C. Coalition for the Homeless from opening the 600-bed shelter in an old Navy Department building at 1900 Anacostia Dr. SE.
In the letter, lawyer Mark A. Venuti questioned the use of $500,000 in funds for the elderly as a part of the $3.7 million grant to the coalition to house the homeless men and women now living at a shelter at 425 Second St. NW, which is operated by the Community for Creative Non-Violence.
The money, he wrote, was intended under the Older Americans Act for persons over 60 and added that "we have serious doubts" that the funds would be restricted to shelter residents over that age.
Anacostia activists also complained that federal officials had failed to consult neighborhood leaders and were dumping the homeless problem on their neighborhood.
"Why do you think you can foist it off on Anacostia?" asked Lee Eckles of the Anacostia Professional and Merchants Association.
"It's an available facility," Hunter responded. "I don't think there's a condition of HHS dumping on Anacostia at all."
Carol Fraser Fisk, acting commissioner of the HHS administration on aging, said there is nothing irregular about awarding $500,000 in Older Americans Act funds to the homeless project.
"The law allows the secretary and the commissioner at their discretion to use research and demonstration dollars in areas where there is a priority need," she said.
Earlier, U.S. District Judge Charles R. Richey, who ruled in August that the federal government could close the Second Street shelter if it provided adequate alternative housing, refused CCNV's request to schedule a hearing on the plan by HHS and the coalition.
CCNV attorney S. William Livingston Jr. urged Richey to begin to review the plan because, he said, "Time is short. It's getting close to winter. The investigation of whether this property is adequate ought to begin now."
Richey, noting that HHS had said the Anacostia site would not be ready until at least the end of the month, said he would not yet set a hearing because "there appears to be no imminent danger that this court's order will be violated."
Both sides in the case have appealed Richey's order to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.