D.C. Mayor Marion Barry expanded the size and role of a city advisory group on the homeless yesterday during a swearing-in ceremony for 73 members of a new Coordinating Council on Homelessness to be headed by Washington developer Oliver T. Carr Jr.
The council will replace the mayor's Commission on Homelessness, a 23-member group that advised the mayor on homelessness for five years.
The new council is expected to assume a far more visible role than the previous commission, which largely limited its activities to gathering information and, according to some members, did not always have the mayor's ear.
In addition to having a more diverse membership that has greater participation from the business community, the council has received a mandate from Barry to seek the private sector's involvement and to push the District into the forefront of developing strategies against homelessness.
The new council's role will go beyond reviewing homeless policies and legislation, and will include actively coordinating the various private and public programs addressing homelessness in the District.
"In a country with all of the brainpower and humanity we have, there has to be a way we can get all segments of the community working together," Barry said during the ceremony held at the Reeves Municipal Center.
The District has at least 6,500 homeless people, according to a report issued by the Center for Applied Research and Urban Policy at the University of the District of Columbia. The District government is involved, directly or indirectly through financial assistance to private groups, in the operation of 16 shelters for homeless individuals and families.
During the homeless council's first meeting, which followed the swearing-in ceremony, Carr told the group that he accepted the position as chairman because he believes that the council is one way to "get at a very difficult and deep problem." Carr also said that the private sector was not providing all the resources that it could to help diminish homelessness. He said part of the council's responsibility would be to ask for help from the private sector and "if they decline, insist that they come on board."