The White House has capitulated to the Community for Creative Non-Violence, offering $5 million for the rehabilitation of the CCNV shelter at Second and D streets. The decision -- which also conveys the multi-million-dollar property to the District of Columbia -- was a political triumph; it ended Mitch Snyder's hunger strike; it rid the president of an embarrassment; and it provided an escape route from further federal responsibility for the sick and homeless nomads of our capital.
The White House decision preempted the work of the Health and Human Services task force that was created to find solutions to the problem of homelessness. House District Committee officials have also expressed shock; they had been striving for a comprehesive four-year agreement for $4 million to $6 million a year to provide small, manageable shelters and had already identified three suitable buildings. There is apprehension the White House may cite the CCNV grant as an excuse for avoiding responsibility and future attention to the homeless.
The $5 million decision raises more questions than it answers: with many hundreds of nomadic men and women seeking shelter in churches and with caring private groups, why did the White House ignore the shelter providers who have for so long walked with the homeless and shared their burdens? Where was the leadership of Mayor Barry? What explains the long silence of D.C. Commissioner of Human Services Audrey Rowe? Did she or the mayor ever consult with Lorraine Rue, the new director of the Office of Emergency Shelter, who is charged with coordinating all resources involved with the homeless? Why was the mayor's own Advisory Commission on Homelessness kept in ignorance of the negotiations with the White House?
In fact, we might do well to question the mayor's handling of the entire affair in light of his consistent failure to meet with, consult with, inform and work in partnership with the community's experienced and responsible shelter providers.
If the mayor and his associates had listened, they might have learned that the Second Street shelter, according to officials of the D.C. Coalition for the Homeless, exemplifies the dangers of "warehousing." These officials agree that those who seek shelter among us deserve to be identified and treated as their needs require. We need small shelters, group homes and structured programs if we are to care for and facilitate the healing of the neediest in our midst. In spite of callousness in high places, I don't believe that our community is willing to settle for less.