MITCH SNYDER has been leading a fight to allow homeless people to sleep in subway stations at night, but the dispute has obscured some important facts. The plight of street people is not being ignored by either private or public agencies.
The District government, for example, is working out plans to give Mr. Snyder the $5 million he needs to finish remodeling his Federal City Shelter. City officials will provide additional shelter with the purchase of five mobile trailers. Private and public donations of $70,000 have allowed that shelter to open a medical clinic this month. The D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development will use $3.8 million to acquire permanent housing sites in the city.
A recent D.C. Court of Appeals ruling will allow city officials temporarily to hospitalize street people who cannot care for themselves. Many homeless advocates support or accept this policy, believing no one should be allowed to die on the streets.
Virginia philanthropist George Kettle, who has offered to pay the college costs of students at an elementary school in Southeast, is leading an effort to buy more trailers for use as shelters. The D.C. Churches Conference on Shelter and Housing is offering to train churches and civic groups to provide shelter. A clinic that will provide meals and counseling for elderly homeless people was opened in October by the Washington Urban League and the Luther Place Memorial Church; funding comes from the District government's Office on Aging.
In Adams Morgan, Christ House offers shelter and medical help. It is run and funded by nuns, physicians and nurses. The Health Care for the Homeless Project provides more medical care to people still on the streets. The medical supplies come from the D.C. government and D.C. General Hospital.
These efforts aren't confined to Washington. In August, Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer ordered $769,000 for Baltimore and Prince George's County to provide more shelter. Students and professors from the University of Maryland have developed plans to convert an unused Baltimore school into a shelter. The Alexandria city government this month raised the amount of money it spends on shelter from $113,000 to $166,000.
These are facts that tend to get lost in the argument about whether the District should make the Farragut West Metro station a crash pad for the homeless. The truth is that local governments and nonprofit private groups are responding to the needs of the homeless in a serious way, and the debate should focus on ways to make their welcome efforts more effective.