A group of organizations that provide shelter for homeless District women demanded yesterday that the city open an emergency shelter for women because private facilities are full at a time when the demand is increasing.
At the women's shelter run by the Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV), which has continued to accept people, the number of women seeking shelter has increased from 80, the shelter's capacity, to 160.
"We are at the breaking point and it is inhumane to have this many women in here," said Jennie Nilson, one of four full-time volunteers at the CCNV shelter. "Some of the most chronically ill people are here and folks who are just down and out and to put them on top of each other creates a volatile situation."
Shelter providers staged a protest yesterday on the steps of the District Building and said that if the city does not respond to their demands for additional shelter space within a week, they will occupy a public building with women who have been refused shelter.
Last November, the city announced that it would open a 40- to 60-bed shelter for women and a 24-hour drop-in center within a month.
Yesterday, Byron Marshall, deputy director for the Department of Human Services, said it had not been determined whether the city will open a drop-in center. A 50-bed women's transitional shelter has been planned for 611 N St. NW for some time and will open in December, Marshall said. Questions about rent and insurance have delayed the opening, he added.
"Clearly there is a large number of homeless women in the city, and we don't have a solution to the problem," said Marshall. "The only thing we can do at this point is work with the shelter providers and rely upon everyone in the community, including churches, to help."
Meanwhile, shelter providers say they have been trying to get the city to respond to the space needs for homeless women and have warned city officials that conditions in the shelters are deteriorating.
At the CCNV women's shelter, in the old Emery school building at 1725 Lincoln Rd. NE, women sleep 15 to a room, in the hallway and in the television room. Belongings in plastic bags and suitcases are stuffed in every available space in those rooms and clothes hang from the light fixtures and a wall molding. The 160 women who live there share four showers and wash their clothes by hand in one laundry sink.
"There are 15 women in my room and that gets a little hectic," said a homeless woman known as Miss Hattie. "They all get on each other's nerves and that brings on fights and confusion. Some women go to work, so people start trying to get into the bathroom at 6 a.m. I usually wait until around 10 a.m. By then the line starts to ease up."
Because other shelters have reached their capacity and are turning people away, CCNV's Nilson said she and the other three volunteers who run the shelter believe the city's system for homeless women would, in effect, shut down if they stopped accepting people.
"The city is not living up to its responsibility to house people," said Nilson. "It is unconscionable to put one more woman in here and it is unconscionable for the city to know what is going on and not do something."
The Emery School has been a temporary CCNV women's shelter since July 1986. In December, CCNV is expected to complete renovations that will open up space for 130 homeless women at its Second and D streets NW shelter.
Meanwhile, Marshall said the conditions at the Emery School "are not the most desirable" and the city will make some repairs if the growing numbers of homeless women force the city to keep the shelter open after CCNV moves.