AS NIGHT descends outside the Community for Creative Non-Violence's ramshackle Second Street shelter, the homeless gather and wait to be allowed inside. One young woman, new to the area, is appalled by conditions there, such as one or maybe two working toilets for the roughly 600 people who spend the night. She, and a young man blowing into a wooden instrument, would welcome the chance of a nightly bus ride down to the newly renovated Anacostia Park homeless shelter that federal officials will open as they attempt to close down the CCNV shelter.
Other homeless people want to stay put, preferring the squalid conditions because the site is close to downtown Washington. For still more, it is a matter of pride to stay put because, as one said, "they (Anacostia residents) don't want us down there."
They certainly do not want a shelter down there and those Southeast Washington residents, yet another unenthusiastic group pulled into this continuing fiasco, see that even poorer people are being forced on people who are already disadvantaged. It does not look good at all.
It never had to be this way. When CCNV's Mitch Snyder ended a hunger strike last year and a federal promise to turn the deteriorating Second Street shelter into a model facility was made, there was room for compromise. But there was no compromise. Mr. Snyder wanted too much, and federal officials were having second thoughts about their promise to him.
The city -- or, more specifically -- Mayor Marion Barry, could have then acknowledged the moral responsibility to find shelter for the city's poorest residents, with the help of up to $3.7 million from federal officials, but that responsibility was ignored. Other site could have been found, but again there was no cooperation from the mayor. It is not the mayor's responsibility, we have been told. How many times have the victims of discrimination walked up to people with the power to help, only to hear it said that it was someone else's responsibility? Well, look who's saying it now.
By that point, there were few alternatives to the Anacostia Park site and federal officials may have picked the only building, on federal property, that could have been used for this purpose.
On these nights when the darkness comes so early, the air is cold. Winter does not wait for court verdicts that will favor CCNV or federal officials. We have misgivings about the federal solution. Its location is by no means ideal, and quite possibly unfair to its neighbors. But it is finished, clean and ready to be used, and there are people in need of better shelter than they have now. For the time being, why not forget everything else?