City authorities reported yesterday that the body of another apparent exposure victim was found near a homeless shelter in Southeast, while the group that operates the shelter endorsed a bill that would empower police to forcibly remove homeless persons from the District streets if the temperature drops to 25 degrees or below.
The body of the unidentified homeless person was discovered about 4 p.m. Sunday near the Anacostia shelter operated with federal funds by the D.C. Coalition for the Homeless. Dr. Rak Kim, acting chief medical examiner, said the exact cause of death won't be known until additional tests are conducted, but that his "impression" was that the man died of exposure.
Kim said that seven persons have died of hypothermia in the District since November. The bodies of two unidentified men were found on District streets last Thursday morning.
Leaders of the coalition yesterday backed a bill introduced nearly a year ago by City Council member John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2) that would empower police to forcibly remove homeless persons from the street and place them in shelters in cold weather. The bill has been stalled in the council's Judiciary Committee.
Saying the hypothermia deaths of homeless persons in the city this season "could have been prevented" by the proposed legislation, Elisabeth Huguenin, president of the coalition, called for immediate hearings on the bill.
However Mitch Snyder, director of the Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV), which operates a controversial large shelter at Second and D streets NW, said the proposal is "unworkable" because there is not enough room in city shelters to house all of the District's homeless who, according to Snyder, number about 5,000.
"We are opposed to trying to force people to come inside when there is no inside to go to," said Snyder.
Wilson's bill, which was introduced in January, goes one step further than a similar proposal made last week by City Council Chairman David A. Clarke. In a letter to Mayor Marion Barry, Clarke urged the mayor to utilize existing authority to force homeless people into shelters. The law empowers police to take homeless persons to hospitals for observation if officers conclude they are mentally ill and a danger to themselves or others. Wilson's bill enables police to remove homeless persons to shelters if the temperature drops and their lives become endangered.
Clarke said yesterday his proposal is contingent upon the mayor withdrawing the city's challenge to a voter-passed initiative favoring shelter for all persons in the District.
In backing Wilson's bill, the coalition broke ranks with homeless advocacy groups that have criticized similar legislation in other cities as a violation of civil liberties.
Snyder, who said he supports Clarke's proposal in conjunction with the implementation of the homeless initiative, said that possible civil rights violations "are not even a concern when you're talking about questions of life and death."
Gary Hankins, labor committee chairman for the Fraternal Order of Police, said, "Our concern is that it be clear we have the authority" to remove the homeless from the streets.