Federal officials announced yesterday they will close a squalid downtown Washington shelter for the homeless July 10 and ordered the Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV) to vacate the building, which probably will be razed.
The plan, which officials said was approved by White House Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan, severs any relationship between the activist CCNV, which has operated the 800-bed shelter on Second Street NW since last year, and the government.
Two days before last November's election President Reagan promised CCNV leader Mitch Snyder that the federal government would transform the shelter, two blocks from the Capitol, into a "model" facility.
In a statement issued by Harvey Vieth, who is chairman of the federal Task Force on the Homeless, federal officials said they will give money that would have been used for renovating the shelter to the District government for alternative housing.
Federal officials also pledged to help relocate as many as 800 homeless persons to smaller facilities.
Snyder, whose 51-day hunger strike last fall led to the unusual bargain with the president, said CCNV will defy the order.
"We are not going anywhere," said Snyder, who labeled the announcement "the latest in a series of mean-spirited and stupid things the feds have done."
"I am not concerned about our leaving," said Snyder, a nationally known advocate for the homeless. "We have lots of lawyers, and I don't think we'll have any difficulty finding a judge who can slow this process down so that it will take six months or a year."
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) officials said that if CCNV or shelter residents refuse to vacate the building, officers of the Federal Protective Service may be called to remove them.
"We have to say at this point that's speculative, and it's not fun to speculate about confrontation," said HHS undersecretary Dixon Arnett.
"The thing we're going to try to do before July 10 is to convince Mitch that there really is no sense in his staying. The issue Mitch has always championed is providing for the homeless. We are going to provide for the homeless in a better and more humane way. Therefore he should be satisfied . . . ."
In his statement Vieth blamed Snyder's "intransigence" for the failed partnership with CCNV and said the building at 425 Second St. NW must be closed because it is "uninhabitable" and "too large to ensure humane treatment for the homeless."
Although Vieth's statement did not mention a specific sum, HHS officials said they were prepared to give the District government at least $2.7 million, the amount previously allocated for renovations.
HHS will also ensure, Vieth said, "that sufficient trained personnel are in place to provide a proper transfer of the residents to alternative shelter."
For months government officials and other shelter operators have questioned Snyder's assertions that more than 700 persons sleep in the rat-infested 40-year-old building, once the site of the old Federal City College.
Audrey Rowe, the District's Commissioner of Social Services, said she is drawing up contingency relocation plans, which are to be presented to Mayor Marion Barry next week.
"We're trying to get a better handle on the numbers," said Rowe. "We'll make every effort to relocate all of those who wish to. But a lot of those people are quite sick and I suspect that somebody who is quite mentally disturbed is not going to use city facilities."
CCNV's controversial operational style, in which residents, who help run the shelter, are not required to sign in or bathe, make it attractive to some who have been evicted from shelters with stricter rules.
Yesterday's announcement caps nearly a month of public accusations, countercharges and legal manuevering about the agreement between HHS and CCNV over architectural plans and the projected cost of renovations.
On Monday, a week after federal officials rescinded the agreement with Snyder, CCNV sued the administration in an attempt to force HHS to make certain repairs or assume responsibility for operation of the facility.
U.S. District Judge Charles Richey is expected to consider the case later this month.