UNSEASONABLY WARM weather was not the only welcome news for the District's homeless people last week. Mayor Barry announced plans to send out patrols on nights when the temperature drops below 30 degrees. They are to inform homeless people of the availability of bed space. If some appear incoherent, the patrols will be authorized to pick them up and shelter them for 48 hours. Those who seem lucid but want to remain on the street will be given surplus army blankets, boots, jackets and gloves, donated to the city by the General Services Administration.
Mayor Barry also said that $250,000 will be spent to winterize and fix up the sprawling downtown shelter run by Mitch Snyder's Community for Creative Non-Violence. That shelter has been the subject of a long struggle between the CCNV and federal officials who last year said they would turn the building into a "model"shelter. But the two parties were unable to agree on the amount of renovation needed. That led to months of conflict during which federal officials opened a new shelter in Anacostia Park and said they would close the CCNV shelter because of the truly deplorable conditions there.
But the mere fact that this decision was being reached as winter weather rolled in meant that closing the CCNV shelter immediately was no longer possible. President Reagan said as much when he rejected the federal plan to evict recalcitrant tenants from the shelter. Both the CCNV shelter and that opened by federal officials in Anacostia Park have held enough homeless people to suggest that neither, operating alone, could provide enough bed space during extremely cold weather. Emergency repairs are essential at the CCNV facility which is a wreck.
It is reasonable to think that eventually the CCNV shelter should be closed and better shelter found in smaller, more manageable facilities. But this step should not be taken now with colder weather coming. The Barry administration now spends more than $8 million to provide bed space for more than 800 homeless people. So the city does provide some much needed shelter. Nevertheless, the mayor should certainly have stepped in earlier to help solve the dispute between the CCNV and federal officials and provide some care for the roughly 600 people who reportedly stay there every night. We are glad to see him finally if belatedly take some action now. As one private provider for the homeless said in a stunning understatement the other day: "This is long overdue.'