U.S. Department of Health and Human Services officials have revised their position on a controversial $3.7 million grant given to the D.C. Coalition for the Homeless, saying the grant has not been suspended but that all future expenditures by the coalition must have prior approval of the federal agency.
"It's a matter of semantics," said Wayne Stanton, an HHS official who had described the agency's action earlier as a suspension of funds.
Officials of the coalition, a private group that operates shelters for the homeless, said they were relieved, but argued there was no need for the tighter financial controls.
"I am very happy about the fact that the funds haven't been suspended," said Elisabeth Huguenin, president of the coalition. "But there is no justification for the tighter controls whatsoever. We feel that we have managed our funds properly." D.C. police and FBI are investigating alleged financial improprieties by the coalition.
In another development, coalition board member Lawrence Guyot submitted his resignation from the organization Tuesday night and said yesterday he did so partly in protest against recent negotiations between the coalition and Mitch Snyder, leader of the Community for Creative Non-Violence. The two groups, which have clashed over care of the homeless in the last six months, appear to be moving toward an agreement of mutual support, according to informed sources.
Meanwhile, a House of Representatives committee chairman has written a letter to the administrator of the General Services Administration raising an objection to an element of a White House plan to transfer title of a CCNV shelter at 425 Second St. NW from the federal government to the District government.
The technical snag is significant because any delay could jeopardize Snyder's plan to use $5 million in funds promised by the Reagan administration to renovate the facility before next winter.
Rep. Jack Brooks (D-Tex.), chairman of the Committee on Government Operations, said in the letter there was "no assurance in the proposal as presented that the property would be put to use as a shelter for the homeless . . . or that the District would be required to maintain the property for this purpose for any length of time."
The White House plan, negotiated last month while Snyder was on a hunger strike, calls for the title to be transferred by law with no strings attached to the building's use.
Brooks suggested, however, that the building should be transferred administratively, rather than by law, and with a specific purpose designated. A bill to transfer the property has been introduced in the Senate and is expected to pass; no bill has been introduced in the House.
"We don't care how the transfer is effected," Snyder said, "as long as it is done soon."
Meanwhile, Mayor Marion Barry, in a news conference yesterday, reaffirmed his administration's intention to take title to the property and administer the $5 million promised to Snyder's group by the administration, adding that he hoped to maintain an arm's length relationship with the operation of the shelter.
"I don't want to be involved with Second Street," Barry said. " . . . I don't want to take on that burden. I have got enough of my own."
Barry said he was reluctant to be held accountable for the success or failure of the shelter program at Second Street and suggested that the federal government would assume responsibility for conducting financial audits and performance evaluations of the operation.
Barry, speculating on the fate of the coalition's Anacostia shelter, said he believed the shelter would stay open past its April 30 scheduled closing. But Huguenin later said, "We have all the intentions to move out of Anacostia by April 30." There are 400 residents in the shelter.