It was incorrectly reported yesterday that the D.C. government has housing homeless families in a Best Western Motel on New York Avenue NE. The families have been lodged at a Best Western on 13th Street NW. (Published 12/21/90)
The D.C. government, citing repeal of the District's homeless initiative and a mounting budget deficit, is trying to overturn two court orders that require the city to provide shelter for homeless men and apartments for homeless families.
In the past month, lawyers for the city have asked D.C. Superior Court Judge Harriett R. Taylor to invalidate the city's agreement to create new shelters for homeless men whenever existing facilities are filled.
In a separate action, the lawyers asked Judge Richard A. Levie to throw out his order that requires the District to move homeless families out of so-called welfare hotels.
Neither judge has acted on the requests, which grow out of legislation passed in June by the D.C. Council revoking portions of a 1984 statute for individuals and a 1987 statute for families that grant the District's homeless a right or entitlement to shelter.
A referendum to negate the council's action was defeated on the November ballot.
Advocates for the homeless say the city's actions come as the area's economic slowdown is causing more residents to lose their homes and could mean that hundreds of city residents will spend the winter months on the streets.
"We have every inch of space utilized," said Carol Fennelly of the Community for Creative Non-Violence, which operates the area's largest shelter at 425 Second St. NW. "We have even opened up the meeting room for women and children."
If the city prevails in its requests, Fennelly predicted that "single men are going to take the biggest hit, because they are the least sympathetic group." The consent agreement covering individuals, approved by the city in June 1989, includes a trigger mechanism that requires the city to open new shelters as the need arises. "By spring, they could be closing existing shelters," Fennelly said.
A change in Levie's order, handed down in October, could mean that homeless families would spend months longer in cramped hotel rooms, or, "We might end up with no services," said Susan Sinclair-Smith, director of the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless.
The city entered into a consent decree to improve conditions at existing shelters and to increase the number of facilities after Taylor found that the city was not complying with the law.
Within months, Taylor found that the District government failed to live up to its terms. Last December, she imposed contempt-of-court fines ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 a day for each violation. The fines now approach $3 million.
In June, the D.C. Council approved emergency temporary legislation revoking homeless people's entitlement to shelter. Later that month, the body passed permanent legislation doing the same thing. But the legislation could not be submitted to Congress for its required review until the referendum on the matter was voted on in the November general election. Therefore, the legislation cannot become law until the review period, which will end about early March.
Almost immediately, the city asked Taylor to dissolve the consent decree, but she declined, saying the new law was not yet effective. Ten days after the referendum on shelter was defeated in November, the city renewed its request.
Lawyers representing the homeless, led by John W. Nields Jr. and Stephen W. Brice, have opposed the city's request.
The city passed new emergency legislation this month, prompting the city to ask Levie to invalidate his orders concerning homeless families. Under a plan submitted to the court in November, the city was to have provided more than 200 apartments for homeless families by next month.
Steve Harburg, lawyer for the families, said yesterday that the number of families in hotels has increased in recent weeks to almost 750 people. As a result, at the time the city had promised to shut down the hotels, the city has begun housing homeless families at another motel, the Best Western on New York Avenue NE.