As social activist Mitch Snyder, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry and Metro officials celebrated the end of the homeless controversy at the Farragut West Metro station yesterday, the chairman of the Metro board said that stations systemwide will be barred to the homeless.
Board Chairman Joseph Alexander, a Fairfax County supervisor, said he is "very certain" that Metro will build barriers to ensure that each of its stations is secure when the trains stop running at night.
In reiterating Metro's position that it is not the transit authority's responsibility to shelter people, Alexander said the plan to install gates at some other stations will go forward whether or not alternative shelters are made available for the homeless who would be locked out of Metro's escalator wells, where some have been spending the night and relieving themselves.
"The general manager has been requested to work on it and bring it to the board as soon as possible," he said, adding that Metro architects are developing "architecturally pleasing" barriers. Alexander said he did not know how soon the barriers would be built or what they would cost.
Metro officials have said they were considering enclosing the escalators and entrance areas to other downtown stations where homeless people have caused problems, but Alexander's comments were the first confirmation that Metro plans to proceed. Many Metro stations are built in such a way that escalators are already behind gates.
Alexander's comments came in an interview shortly before Snyder, founder of the Community for Creative Non-Violence, and seven other activists ended a 33-day fast protesting the exclusion of homeless people from Farragut West.
The hunger strikers agreed to abandon the fast after Metro, the D.C. government, members of the business community and a charitable group arranged for an old Metrobus to be equipped as a shelter and parked outside the station at night.
Surrounded by hundreds of onlookers last night, Snyder and Barry embraced, then shared a meal of split-pea soup and homemade bread with the hunger strikers. D.C. Metro board members Hilda H.M. Mason and Gladys Mack were also there. Snyder congratulated the public officials and private supporters who devised the makeshift shelter and appealed for volunteers to help staff it.
Two portable toilets and a city bus furnished with blankets were wheeled into place on I Street NW as a stopgap until the refitted Metrobus begins service Monday.
Snyder said, "We would have another situation just like this one" if Metro builds gates at other stations without making provisions for people who use them as shelters.
"I would urge them to be sensitive," said Barry, adding that he disagreed with the decision to build gates at Farragut West.
Alexander, who suggested an out-of-service bus as a solution to the standoff over Farragut West, said that Metro has "a number of surplus buses that are not being used." He said Metro would consider donating them as shelters if the D.C. government requests them.
The D.C. government plans to spend $25,000 during the next six months to operate the makeshift shelter, Barry said. Members of the business community agreed to pay the $8,400 needed to install a toilet in the bus and equip it as a shelter.