Homeless men carried their belongings out of the Randall shelter in Southwest Washington for the last time yesterday as the shelter closed, despite controversy over the city's plan to sell the building to the Corcoran Museum of Art for $6.2 million.
The Department of Human Services closed the shelter, operated by Catholic Charities, and opened 150 new beds for homeless men at the 801 East Building on the campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital in Southeast.
Homeless advocates had criticized the city's plan to move shelter beds three miles from downtown, where large numbers of homeless people congregate and where many feeding and social service programs are located. City officials promised to provide evening and morning shuttle bus service.
The city plans to sell the Randall building, a 150-bed overnight emergency shelter in a former junior high school, to the Corcoran Museum of Art and College of Art and Design for $6.2 million, a deal that requires council approval. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who held a hearing last week to determine whether the building is needed for public use or is surplus property, questioned the timing of the shelter closure.
"Did we have to do this right now?" Graham asked. "Because the Corcoran deal is far from being consummated." Graham's council committee has not reviewed the legislation. First, the committee must decide whether the building is surplus property and therefore can be sold.
Yesterday, men streamed out of Randall by the 7 a.m. closing time. Some walked out silently, pulling luggage across the buckled pavement, and others stood in the courtyard and mulled their options.
"I'm living on a tight wire right now," said Roger Washington, 45, who carried a backpack, a green duffel bag and a suitcase. Washington lived at Randall for a year and reports to a temp agency as early as 5 a.m. He said he wouldn't relocate to the Southeast shelter because the combination of buses and trains would not get him to the agency on time. He plans to stay at a shelter in Northwest.
It was the second time in eight months that the city closed a homeless shelter and put replacement beds miles from downtown. In March, city officials closed the 150-bed Gales Shelter in Northwest, blocks from the U.S. Capitol, and opened up 200 beds in a men's shelter in Northeast. City officials have said they decided to close the shelters because they were dilapidated and beyond repair.
"We're phasing out what we consider to be substandard conditions for shelter," said Lynn C. French, senior adviser on homeless policy to Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D).
Meanwhile, the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless raised new concerns yesterday about shelter space for homeless families.
Last month, the Alexander Social Services Corp., which housed 18 families in apartment-style units on Benning Road under a $385,000 city contract, opted not to renew the contract. Marta Beresin, an attorney for the legal clinic, said hundreds of families are waiting for shelter space.
French said that homeless families continue to be admitted to D.C. Village, an emergency shelter for homeless families, and that the shelter has vacancies.