Communications problems between the Department of Human Services and the D.C. Board of Education have delayed the opening of a temporary shelter for homeless men that the city promised would be ready this winter, according to Herbert Henson, director of the city's Department of General Services.
In the meantime, the city's two existing school shelters for homeless men are filled to overflowing. Dozens of men were given only "sit-up" space last Saturday and Sunday nights, according to the supervisors of the two shelters.
The temporary shelter for 200 men planned for Bundy School has not progressed beyond phone calls between city departments, said Henson, whose department is waiting to install showers in the empty school, at Fourth and O streets NW.
"I'm awaiting approval on the opening of Bundy," Henson said. "I need permission from someone in the schools." The school board must transfer authority for the now-closed school to the city before it can be used as a shelter, said board spokeswoman Linda Johnson. Neither city agency could explain why the transfer has not taken place.
Last month, Audrey Rowe, director of the city's Department of Human Services, told the mayor's newly formed advisory Commission on the Homeless that the Bundy school would be opened this month. She said yesterday she had not talked with the Board of Education on the matter.
She noted that the planned temporary shelter was promised for winter and "winter doesn't start until the 21st of December."
She also said the existing shelters are not full. "We still have beds. We have not got to the point of using sit-up space."
Later, a member of her staff called to say Rowe had "made an error" and that all beds at the Pierce and Blair shelters for men are full, but the sit-up capacity has not yet been reached. The shelter is to serve as an overflow facility when the city's two main shelters are full.
The delay over the creation of the Bundy shelter was criticized yesterday by the D.C. Coalition for the Homeless. "The buildings and grounds people at the Board of Education and the Department of Human Services can't seem to figure out who's contacted who," said Tim Siegel, a coordinator for the coalition of church groups, soup kitchens and shelters. "We don't care who's telling the truth. We just want to see the shelter open."
Rowe said the coalition "doesn't know what it's talking about." She added, "They're advocates and they see a crisis . . . We don't have a crisis. It's a serious problem. We're monitoring the situation closely." She said she will give a status report on the Bundy shelter to the mayor's commission on the homeless tomorrow.
To meet what it called the growing need for emergency shelter, four classrooms in an unused school owned by the Archdiocese of Washington were opened as a men's shelter last night. Located at 1717 Rhode Island Ave. NW, the Calvert Shelter will be run by three friars from the Capuchin College in Northeast Washington.
The Rev. Stephen Carter, 29, one of the three, said the shelter has no hot water or showers and can provide only tea in the evening and coffee in the morning. Currently, 60 mattresses are spread among the four rooms. "The heat will be paid by Catholic Charities," he said.
Another of the friars, the Rev. Jack Pfannenstiel, pleaded for volunteers and donations of clothing, food, blankets, money and low-income housing, which officials of several city shelters said are in constant demand.
"We are desperate," said Pat Makin, who runs Luther Place Shelter for women in downtown Washington, a 15-bed facility that currently houses 26 women. "We now have only sit-up space. Women are telling me they'll just lay on the floor, they don't need a blanket. They just want somewhere to come out of the cold."