On its first night, the District's new shelter for the homeless, renovated with federal funds, had only 42 people. Across town, outside the homeless shelter run by Mitch Snyder's Community for Creative Non-Violence, a rather ludicrous confrontation was taking place.
A crowd of homeless people there, who seem to have been given the impression that they should be furious with anyone who would offer an alternative to the run-down CCNV shelter, shouted and threw rocks at the vans that were there to offer them a free ride to a clean and warm place to stay for the night. Perhaps, understating things a bit, those folks have been misled.
That new shelter, financed with part of the $3.7 million offered by federal officials and run by the D.C. Coalition for the Homeless, has been quietly sending a message. About 100 homeless people stayed there on the ensuing nights. Then the number topped 200. On Tuesday night, 311 homeless people spent the night there. Over half of them, we are told, came from the CCNV shelter.
It is hard to believe that more than a year ago federal officials made a deal with Mr. Snyder to end his hunger strike, offering to turn the CCNV shelter into a model facility. Mr. Snyder wanted more than what federal officials offered. He was willing to keep the homeless in the foul conditions of his shelter if federal officials would not give him everything he wanted. So the homeless stayed in a rat- and roach-infested building.
Those federal officials turned to the District government then, offering it the money they had promised Mr. Snyder. Mayor Marion Barry refused to accept. He was willing to let 600 people stay in a shelter with one working toilet. The homeless again remained in that dilapidated building.
With no help from Mr. Snyder or Mr. Barry, federal officials found a less-than-ideal site in a building in Anacostia Park. They found a group willing to run it. They renovated and furnished the new shelter. It has clean cots and adequate toilet equipment, and there are vans to ferry people back and forth everyday.
Federal Judge Charles R. Richey told federal officials that they could not close the CCNV shelter, located in a federal building, until they found adequate alternative shelter. Judge Richey has ruled that the new shelter is fine and represents "a substantial effort to deal with the problem in a humane and forthright manner."
The homeless are often malnourished, sometimes drug-or alcohol-dependent, sometimes mentally ill, sometimes hopelessly withdrawn. That makes it hard for many of them to speak for themselves. But about 300 of these people have found a way to make a statement. They are saying that the new shelter is fine, better than where they have been. Perhaps more people will start to listen to them.