UNLIKELY as it may seem now, cold weather will be here again. For the District's homeless, the amount and quality of available shelter space, and the administration of it, are woefully inadequate. In recent months, federal officials have given or authorized $8.7 million to renovate one huge, squalid shelter and to develop other permanent shelter sites around the city. But next to nothing has been done so far. There may be even less shelter available next winter than last, unless responsible action is taken now.
In March, federal officials agreed to give $5 million to renovate the dilapidated shelter -- currently it has only two working showers and toilets -- run by the Community for Creative Non-Violence. That will take considerable time, but the work has not begun. The Reagan administration agreed to turn over the building and the site, which is a federal property, to the District government. But Congress has been wrangling for weeks over the terms of transfer. It is important to transfer such a valuable piece of property carefully, but it is urgent that Congress settle this matter and release the $5 million so renovations can begin. Current plans allow only half the building to be fixed up by winter. Half of the building will be closed until then. If much more time passes, it will be impossible to finish renovations before winter. A shelter that houses 1,000 homeless people cannot afford to face winter with half a building.
Another $3.7 million in federal money went to the D.C. Coalition for the Homeless to develop long-term shelter sites for some 500 more homeless people. By April 30, the Coalition was to have opened as many as nine or 10 small shelters. That effort is in shambles. Only four shelters are open, and the city is suing to close one of them for serious fire-code violations. The Coalition is under investigation for misuse of funds. Its president is quitting after finding what she believes is more abuse of funds. She says no comprehensive services are being provided.
The Coalition was an unlikely choice for the job, but it was chosen only after Mayor Marion Barry and the city refused to accept the federal offer for the same money and task. It was the mayor's responsibility to step forward then. It remains imperative that city officials accept their responsibility to develop decent shelter space for the city's homeless, before the cold comes.