It is a relief for the city government that the ballot initiative guaranteeing overnight shelter for the homeless has been ruled invalid by D.C. Superior Court Judge Annice Wagner -- a legal, though not a moral relief. Though the overwhelming approval demonstrated how strongly the voters felt about the government's responsibilities toward the homeless, the proposal was vague, misleading and, as Judge Wagner ruled, constituted an indirect exercise of appropriation power that does not rest with the electorate. But nothing in this ruling relieves the city of a commitment to do better by those we consider homeless. And Mayor Barry has reaffirmed his support for a policy that every person "who is out of a home should be able to turn to the public and private sctors for assistance."
That's the kind of initiative -- instead of Initiative 17 -- that can proceed once the city is not saddled with an offer to provide people of any means a shelter for what might be the rest of their lives. Instead, the Barry administration and private organizations should combine all available money and talent to create facilities of reasonable size and to provide health, housing and job assistance for all who seek it.
It was generally agreed even among those who pressed hardest for Initiative 17 that it was not to be interpreted as a requirement to build public housing for everybody or to provide complete mental health services for anybody, but rather to offer modest temporary accommodations. The object then, as now, is to lower the number of people without access to shelter. Judge Wagner's ruling does not argue with "the salutary purpose of the proposal," nor does it prevent people from voicing their wishes through the initiative process. On the contrary, the opportunities for cooperation, creativity and effectiveness in providing adequate shelter to the homeless are as open as they ever have been.