Social activist Mitch Snyder and 11 members of his Community for Creative Non-Violence began a fast yesterday aimed at persuading Metro to take down the gate that bars homeless people from the Farragut West station at night.
Two members of the advocacy group for the homeless were arrested early today when they tried to block Metro police from closing the chain-link gates. Both were handcuffed; Mary Ellen Hombs was carried while Jennie Nilson was dragged to a waiting police wagon. About 30 supporters cheered them on, chanting "bring down the Gates of Shame."
Snyder, himself arrested twice in recent weeks in connection with the continuing protest, said his group decided to step up its pressure on Metro because no progress has come out of discussions with transit and city officials.
He and 11 other members of the group initiated their fast yesterday morning following a meal of bread and water taken as commuters walked by. They said the meal would be their last until transit officials remove the gate or otherwise accommodate the street people its construction displaced about four weeks ago.
Four, including Snyder, will drink only water, while eight others will subsist on liquids to include fruit juice, CCNV spokeswoman Carol Fennelly said.
"We're not prepared to sit around and talk while folks die," Snyder said. "We have no choice but to escalate the dialogue."
Members of the Metro board said in interviews yesterday that they discussed the problem with D.C. Mayor Marion Barry on Friday and are studying a number of ways to ease the street people's hardship. One plan under consideration would convert Metro buses that are no longer in service into shelters, said board vice chairwoman and D.C. Council member Hilda H.M. Mason (Statehood-At Large). Another effort is under way to find a building that could be turned into a shelter, Mason added.
"We're looking to be helpful. I hope that everybody has patience and allows us that opportunity," Board Chairman Joseph Alexander said.
Metro spokeswoman Beverly Silverberg said transit officials formulated no response to CCNV's fast. Transit authority policy-makers are still considering measures aimed at discouraging homeless people from frequenting other downtown stations, she said.
Metro built the gate to prevent street people from relieving themselves beneath the Farragut West escalators, and transit officials have maintained that housing vagrants is not their responsibility. Alexander criticized the CCNV protest as "misdirected."
The mayor's spokesman, John C. White, said Metro officials briefed Barry on the situation but that the mayor considers it to be "a Metro problem."
A spokesman for the District's social services echoed that view.
"In general, we believe there is shelter here for anyone that wants it," White said.
Snyder said CCNV would continue to focus attention on Metro because its gate threatens to drive the problem of homelessness "out of sight and out of mind" as it drives longtime denizens into the cold.
In three past disputes with District and federal authorities, when other tactics failed, Snyder won concessions by fasting.
In November 1984, after he fasted for 51 days, the Reagan administration capitulated and promised to renovate a government-owned building that housed a CCNV homeless shelter. In 1983, he fasted for 63 days before persuading the Reagan administration to rename the Naval Vessel Corpus Christi to City of Corpus Christi.