[Hpn] D.C. Plans Aggressive Strategy on Homeless: City Hopes to Prevent Deaths ...
Morgan W. Brown
Tue, 06 Nov 2001 13:10:19 -0500
Saturday, November 3, 2001
Washington Post <http://www.washingtonpost.com>
Metro News section
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
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
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
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Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA
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