About 175 Southeast Washington residents and community leaders turned out last night at Anacostia High School for an emotional protest against plans to open a temporary shelter for the homeless in Anacostia to replace a dilapidated shelter operated downtown by the Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV).
The rally culminated weeks of organization by Anacostia leaders who have angrily complained that their area is being used as a "dumping ground" for unattractive facilities and vowed to launch an effort to block the new shelter.
"No one seems to know we live here. We are a hidden people," said Luis Zapata, chairman of the Frederick Douglass Community Improvement Council. " . . . One way to stop being a hidden people is if we make enough noise."
Officials of the Advisory Neighbhorhood Commission 6-C, which organized the rally, criticized other elected officials, including Mayor Marion Barry and some members of the D.C. City Council, who were invited to rally but failed to attend. Council Chairman David A. Clarke and council members Nadine Winter (D-Ward 6) and Hilda Mason (Statehood-At Large) were among those who did turn out.
"We are not going to be a dumping ground for the city when it comes to shelters and community-based residential faciiites," Winter told the cheering crowd.
Clarke reminded the Anacostia residents that the local government shares responsibility for homeless residents but he went on to deplore what he said was President Reagan's failure to fulfill a promise to establish a "model physical structure" at Second Street.
"The homeless people of the city should not be the ball that is bounced across the tennis court of federal and local government," Clarke said.
Mason suggested that the federal plan is an interference with the city's home rule rights, saying, "No other state would have to go through this kind of thing."
The federal government and the D.C. Coalition for the Homeless have announced plans to open a 600-bed shelter in Southeast Washington to house men who currently stay at a crumbling downtown shelter operated by the CCNV. The plan has been strongly criticized by Barry and by CCNV leader Mitch Snyder, who has asked a federal judge to stop the government from closing the shelter at 425 Second Street NW.
CCNV charges that the federal government reneged on President Reagan's promise last November to convert the Second Street shelter into a model facility. HHS has won permission from a U.S. District Court judge to close the Second Street shelter if it establishes an alternative plan for the District's homeless.
In the HHS plan, the D.C. Coalition for the Homeless would receive $3.7 million to operate the temporary shelter at 1900 Anacostia Drive SE until April and then establish long-term shelters around the city. The federal judge's ruling has been appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District, which is considering the case.
Perhaps the most emotional speech was delivered by ANC 6-C commissioner Cardell Shelton, who told the audience of families, elderly residents and teen-agers that he had a great personal stake in Anacostia.
"I will live here until I die," he said. "They will carry me out of Anacostia."
Standing beside a placard that read, "It's hard to lift yourself by your bootstrap when 600 homeless people are standing on your boots," Shelton drew ringing approval when he said, "They want to spend $3.7 million to house 600 degenerates. They could give us a million dollars and we could train thousands of our people.