Community leaders in LeDroit Park have filed a complaint with D.C. Zoning Administrator James Fahey, charging that the D.C. Coalition for the Homeless is operating a women's shelter illegally at 455-457 Florida Ave. NW.
The shelter, city officials have confirmed, was opened Nov. 14 without the needed certificate of occupancy and zoning authorization. City regulations require that such a shelter, which occupies two row houses and was intended to hold 60 persons, receive approval from the Board of Zoning Adjustment before opening.
On Friday, a day after the complaint was filed by the community leaders, the D.C. Coalition contacted the zoning administrator's office to apply for an occupancy certificate and ask for a BZA hearing.
"They were informed verbally that this would take special approval by the Board of Zoning Adjustment and that we had no alternative but to disapprove their application," Fahey said. "In the meantime, however, we are sending a crew of inspectors up there to see if there is any imminent danger because of lack of fireproofing or something of that nature."
The shelter will remain open pending the inspection, officials said. The application filed by the D.C. Coalition indicated that the shelter would be scaled down from a capacity of 60 to 35.
The women's shelter on Florida Avenue was opened as an alternative refuge for women residing at a Community for Creative Non-Violence shelter at 425 Second St. NW.
The D.C. Coalition received a $3.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to open the Florida Avenue facility and a 600-bed temporary shelter for men at 1900 Anacostia Dr. SE.
Federal authorities are awaiting court approval to close the Second Street shelter. A condition for its closing, imposed by U.S. District Judge Charles R. Richey, is that the federal government provide alternative housing for the residents of the Second Street building.
The Florida Avenue shelter is considered a key element in the alternative plan developed by the D.C. Coalition and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Elisabeth Huguenin, president of the D.C. Coalition, acknowledged that the organization had not followed the procedures for occupancy but complained that city residents appear to be unwilling to accept the homeless into their neighborhoods.
"People have voted for everybody's right to shelter," she said in a reference to a ballot initiative approved overwhelmingly last year but now in litigation. "Then, when shelters are starting to be put in the District, everybody is against it."
David Parker, chairman of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission in the area of the Florida Avenue shelter, termed the D.C. Coalition's peremptory opening of the facility "arrogant and underhanded."
"When it comes to the inner city, they just come, set up and start operating, and we have to go though a very lengthy process to get them out," Parker said.
"The people who voted for this thing didn't think of the fact that this was going to lead to these shelters being put into their neighborhoods in a piecemeal and unregulated fashion," he said.