A leader of a national homeless advocacy group sharply rebuked the D.C. Coalition for the Homeless and a federal agency yesterday for closing a shelter in Anacostia and threatened to sue the U.S. government for damages on behalf of displaced homeless people.
Robert M. Hayes, counsel of the New York-based National Coalition for the Homeless, accused the local group of "sandbagging" his organization's 11th-hour effort to secure a court injunction preventing the shutdown of the shelter. The facility at 1900 Anacostia Dr. SE was closed yesterday after several dozen remaining residents were transferred the previous night.
"Recklessly, the organization shipped people to grossly substandard and overcrowded shelters, causing people to flee such shelters for the streets," Hayes said at a news conference. He said the transfer of the Anacostia shelter residents to other facilities also symbolized "the federal government's shabby treatment of America's homeless poor."
The shutdown of the refuge was in accordance with a $3.7 million grant contract between the D.C. coalition, which is not affiliated with the national coalition, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The arrangement called for the D.C. coalition to house the homeless temporarily at the Anacostia shelter and then settle them in smaller, permanent shelters around the city.
Hayes said national coalition officials, acting at the suggestion of homeless advocate Mitch Snyder, approached the local group late Tuesday after HHS officials turned down the D.C. coalition's request for a 60-day extension of its closing deadline.
The D.C. coalition rebuffed the national coalition's suggestion that the organizations ask a federal judge to block the closing because homeless persons would be "ejected" from the facility without adequate shelter alternatives.
Elisabeth Huguenin, president of the local group, confirmed yesterday that staff members of her organization were approached by the national coalition but said that the shutdown virtually was complete by that time and that staff members declined the offer. She also cast doubt on Hayes' assertion that the federal government had been derelict in locating proper alternative facilities for Anacostia shelter residents.
"The responsibility was solely laid upon the [D.C.] Coalition for the Homeless to take care of those people in terms of finding facilities," she said.
Hayes said the national coalition intends to file a class-action suit within a week claiming damages on behalf of the homeless. A spokesman for HHS said he would have no comment on the suit.
Snyder, Hayes and others have charged that former Anacostia shelter residents have drifted into city streets and swelled the rolls of other shelters in the city, creating crowding. Laraine Rue, director of the D.C. Office of Emergency Shelter and Support Services, said that 95 beds had been added in three city-operated shelters to accommodate Anacostia shelter residents.
Huguenin said 120 other residents had been transferred to the D.C. coalition's new facilities at 1333 Emerson St. NW, 4326 14th St. NW and 1318 Park Rd. NW. She said D.C. coalition staff members will keep track of former Anacostia shelter residents who are living at city-run shelters and will transfer them to new D.C. coalition shelters when they open.
Meanwhile, city officials confirmed that the D.C. coalition's facility on Emerson St., which the organization has said will house 42 men, was opened several days ago without the required certificate of occupancy.