WHAT SHOULD WE make of the deal between federal officials and the Community for Creative Non-Violence concerning the CCNV's homeless shelter? Those officials will donate that squalid facility to the city and provide $5 million to renovate it. CCNV will continue to run it, without city help, as a shelter. A White House spokesman said: "They were cooperative. We were cooperative, and we just reached an agreement." Is he kidding?
Mayor Marion Barry was all smiles, largely because he has managed to avoid any responsibility throughout the dispute over a federal promise to turn that shelter into a model facility for homeless D.C. residents. He did come up with $250,000 for repairs so minor that the building is still a dilapidated firetap. The CCNV's Mitch Snyder was talking about the money that will roll in from a "60 Minutes" segment and a movie in which he plays an intransigent zealot who gets his way by repeatedly threatening to kill himself on hunger strikes. No one, of course, is willing to let that happen.
But it is now mid-March and another winter has passed, a winter in which 600 to 800 homeless people had to find shelter in that same vermin-infested, unsanitary, loosely supervised, ramshackle building with six toilets and two showers. They might have had a cleaner, safer building to stay in this past winter. There might have been smaller, more manageable shelters prepared and waiting for them when the cold weather arrived. There could have been sound programs run by city officials whose expertise could have been unleashed by Mr. Barry. None of that happened.
This city could have been proud of what it had accomplished for the homeless this past winter if there had been anything even remotely resembling a "we can work together" spirit. There was none of that.
It began on election eve, November 1984, when Mr. Snyder ended a hunger strike because of a federal promise to turn his shelter into a model facility. There was no agreement on what that entailed. The situation deteriorated into a messy court battle. The feds wanted to pull out. Mr. Snyder was intractable. The mayor refused to help find a better building, refused a plan to house the homeless in trailers, refused to offer programs for them. They deserved better.
Short of that, in a situation in which a quintessential city responsibility -- finding decent shelter for the several hundred homeless people at the CCNV facility -- has been abdicated by that city's officials, we suppose the agreement to renovate the shelter is better than nothing. And say this for Mr. Snyder: he was at least fighting for more shelter in the absence of any serious interest on the part of the city in taking on more homeless people. For the citizens of the District who believe in home rule and local responsibility, this is an embarrassing moment.