[Hpn] D.C. Plans Aggressive Strategy on Homeless: City Hopes to Prevent Deaths ...

Morgan W. Brown norsehorse@hotmail.com
Tue, 06 Nov 2001 13:10:19 -0500


-------Forwarded article-------

Saturday, November 3, 2001
Washington Post <http://www.washingtonpost.com>
[Washington, D.C.]
Metro News section
Page B01
D.C. Plans Aggressive Strategy on Homeless

City Hopes to Prevent Deaths on Cold Nights

By Serge F. Kovaleski and Sylvia Moreno
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, November 3, 2001; Page B01

Mayor Anthony A. Williams has instructed District authorities to enforce a 
pair of controversial and little-used D.C. laws designed to remove 
intoxicated or mentally ill people from the streets in an attempt to protect 
the homeless from freezing to death this winter.

The Williams administration says it is also adding emergency shelter space 
as part of a winter response plan for the homeless that went into effect 
Thursday, the official start of the hypothermia season, and runs through 
March 31. The revised strategy is intended to avert "any of the incidents we 
had last year," said Carolyn N. Graham, the deputy mayor for children, youth 
and families.

Last winter, according to city officials, six homeless men and one woman 
died of hypothermia, a condition that occurs when a person's body 
temperature falls below 95 degrees after exposure to cold, wet conditions. 
Autopsies showed that at least five of the seven were intoxicated by alcohol 
or drugs.

At a news conference this week, Williams (D) suggested that frontline 
workers who interact with the homeless need to be more aggressive in dealing 
with adults, who are often reluctant to seek shelter from the cold.

"We all have to do something about the homeless who will not accept shelter 
in the winter months," Williams said. He also announced a public outreach 
campaign that will enlist businesses and nonprofit organizations to alert 
the city about homeless adults who may be at risk. The initiative will 
include buttons with the slogan "I'm a Hypothermia Watch Partner."

The mayor further stated he would like to see the District adopt an 
anti-loitering law that "could pass constitutional muster." Said Williams, 
"I'm not sure someone has the right to live in front of someone's building."

This year's winter plan, laid out in an executive order signed by the mayor 
Wednesday, includes enforcing a 1947 ordinance that allows the removal from 
the outdoors of anyone who is publicly intoxicated and a 1965 statute that 
allows officials to seek the forcible commitment of mentally ill persons who 
pose a danger to themselves or others.

Advocates for the homeless warned that the measures need to be applied 
carefully to avoid abuses of civil liberties and personal freedoms.

"If someone is totally out of it and can't make a decision and does not have 
adequate blankets to keep warm, they are at risk of dying of hypothermia and 
should be transported to a medical facility," said Mary Ann Luby, an 
outreach worker at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless.

But she stressed, "We want people to be careful about judgments, and the 
criteria have to be objective."

Brian Anders, outreach and advocacy coordinator for Neighbors' Consejo, a 
homeless services organization in Columbia Heights, was much more critical 
of the mayor's call for greater enforcement of the laws.

"What the mayor is trying to do is disgusting. He is trying to get the 
police to deal with a human services issue," Anders said. He added, "It's 
all about pushing homeless people out of the downtown area so tourists and 
businesspeople don't have to see them."

Anders said that he would rather have the city expand detoxification and 
recovery programs for the homeless, which he said are crowded and 

The Addiction Prevention and Recovery Administration of the D.C. Health 
Department runs 80 detoxification beds on the campus of D.C. General 
Hospital that are virtually always full, said Keith Shipman, coordinator of 
special population services for the agency.

The mayor announced that the city will have two overflow facilities for 
homeless single adults this winter, La Casa Multicultural Center in Columbia 
Heights and the former Gales School near Union Station. Last winter, 
advocates criticized the city's decision to use the school as the only 
overflow facility, saying it was too far from downtown and the neighborhoods 
where many of the homeless congregate.

The Gales School will open Monday and will have beds available only when the 
temperature is below freezing, said Ricardo Lyles, head of the city's Family 
Services Administration. He said the site will always have staff on call to 
refer the homeless to appropriate services.

For homeless families, the city is keeping a set of buildings at D.C. 
Village, in far Southwest Washington, open year-round. The facility has been 
near its 50-family capacity in recent weeks, officials said.

For homeless women, the city this week finished transferring the population 
of the Open Door Shelter, a set of trailers at Fourth and L streets NW, to 
the Community for Creative Non-Violence, the largest shelter in the city. 
The shelter will absorb the trailers' 126-bed capacity until a new shelter 
for women is built downtown.

But advocates fear the city could fall short this winter in meeting the 
needs of residents who are more vulnerable to homelessness because of a weak 
economy undermined by the aftershocks of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The city's central intake center for homeless families already has recorded 
2,000 applications this year, about double the number seeking assistance 
during all of last year.

The city recorded 99 hypothermic nights last winter, far greater than the 
average of 65 nights in the winters since 1994. Officials estimate that 600 
adults regularly live on the streets and in public spaces.

Staff writer Sewell Chan and staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to 
this report.


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-------End of forward-------

Morgan <norsehorse@hotmail.com>
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA

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