An article in yesterday's Metro section misspelled D.C. Community activist Dorothy Brizill's name, and said that Columbia Heights is north of Spring Road NW. Spring Road serves as the northern border of Columbia Heights. (Published 9/26/90)
To Jack White, executive director of the Coalition for the Homeless, housing homeless families in two apartment buildings in a quiet, middle-class neighborhood in Northwest Washington is a terrific idea.
To Jane Eiland, who has lived in that neighborhood for more than 30 years, the idea means increased crime and substance abuse, devalued property and roaming children -- a disrupted community.
Those viewpoints clashed last night at a community meeting at the Woodner Apartments in the 3300 block of 16th Street NW, where representatives of the coalition defended the plan to place 28 homeless families in two apartment buildings in the 1400 block of Spring Road NW.
The often raucous 90-minute gathering illustrated the increasingly angry conflict between advocates for the homeless and homeowners who don't want facilities for them in their neighborhoods.
"It's our neighborhood," said Eiland, 67. "The two things that bothered us are that we already have enough facilities in this area and this was dropped on us like a bomb. We shouldn't be forced to like it or lump it."
About two weeks ago, the coalition signed a lease for two three-story brick buildings in the 1400 block of Spring Road NW. The organization said it plans to operate a "family facility" in which occupants will be offered counseling on substance abuse and employment, as well as job training, financial planning help and other services. The coalition has eight facilities in the District.
"These are places for people who are trying to get themselves back together," said Gary Lyon, a former resident of a coalition facility who is scheduled to be resident manager of the Spring Road apartments. "It's not for people who are just trying to get out of the rain."
Many residents said they didn't doubt the worth of the program, but said they were outraged that they didn't find out about the plan until two weeks ago.
"We should have had a hearing," said Barbara Reeder, who lives across from the apartments. "Do you know how frustrating it was to walk around and knock on 300 doors asking if anybody knew about this, and having everybody, except maybe 10 people, say no?"
White contended that his group searched for locations in Southeast, Northeast and Northwest Washington, and tried to let the Spring Road neighborhood know about the facility immediately after signing the lease.
But that didn't placate the residents, who frequently shouted down coalition representatives.
During the grilling, White stood impassively, stoically answering questions before an increasingly frustrated audience. At one point, an audience member asked White, "After all this, will those families still be moving in here?"
White answered flatly, "Yes."
Residents said they are worried that their community is becoming a haven for the city's halfway houses, emergency shelters and residences for the mentally disabled.
Donna Brazill, a community activist, said there are about 40 social service residences in Columbia Heights, just north of Spring Road.
"We're becoming a dumping ground," said Aurelia Corbett King, an advisory neighborhood commissioner. Noting that most coalition representatives are from suburban Virginia and Maryland, King said, "Why don't they put one of these things in their neighborhood?"
"If we could have consulted them, we would have," said Steve Newman, a member of the coalition's board. "But that isn't the issue, and the issue isn't where coalition board members live. The issue is that no one wants this kind of facility around."