Task Force Mulls Future of Historic Shelter
On Jan. 30th, a special city task force held its fifth meeting to discuss the future of the historic Federal City homeless shelter.
At the meeting, service providers who work with homeless men and women at the facility had a chance to discuss their programs. which are aimed at helping residents improve their lives. They also offered thoughts on what should happen to the 1,350 bed shelter located at 425 2nd St. NW.
Also present at the meeting was real estate developer Douglas Jemal, founder and president of Douglas Development Corp. The developer, known for revitalizing historic properties for use as retail, office and residential sites, said that he was looking forward to helping address problems with homelessness in Washington.
The shelter, the city’s largest, is often referred to simply as CCNV, the initials of the Community for Creative Non-Violence, an anti-war and anti-poverty group that turned the former college building into a hub for homeless services in the late 1980’s.
Julia Lightfoot, executive director of Clean and Sober Streets, a substance abuse treatment center based at the shelter was among those who spoke at the hearing.
Calling the property “a godsend,” she harked back to the shelter’s early days, and the efforts of the late CCNV leader Mitch Snyder, who staged protests and a 51-day long hunger strike to convince President Ronald Reagan to turn over the former federal college building to the group for use as a shelter. She said the grassroots spirit drew her to CCNV.
“I wasn’t limited by what i could or couldn’t do. The program is here to serve the clients,” she said. “Clean and Sober uses a communicative approach to substance abuse. The thing that really helps folks to find a cure is their peers.”
Also present was Henry Pierce, who graduated from Clean and Sober. Lightfoot treated him. Pierce emphasised that the Clean and Sober program stays with clients throughout the recovery process.
Presenting for CCNV was Executive Director Rico Harris, who said that his organization was guided by the belief that “one brother can pull another brother up and we can get back in mainstream society.”
“Some people think we run a shelter on a whim, but we don’t,” he added. However, Harris acknowledged that the 70-year-old structure was deteriorating.
“The building is falling apart,” Harris said.
Michael F. Curtin, Jr., chief executive officer of DC Central Kitchen, spoke of his organization’s efforts to feed the hungry as well as to train the poor, formerly incarcerated, and homeless for culinary jobs.
“We are trying to break the hardships of addiction, mental illness, unemployment, even poverty,” he said.
Presenting for Jobs Have Priority was Contessa Riggs, who said her organization, which operates out of the lobby of the shelter, had been able to place many residents into jobs.
“We don’t have any admission criteria, we just sit down and it’s about what you need,” she said. Next was New Hope Ministries’ executive director Alberta Johnson who said that between CCNV and another site, her organization was serving nearly 200 women.
“I don’t think they should be homeless,” she said. “We have been full every single night.”
She said she wished she had a better building for the residents.
Dr. Janelle Goetcheus spoke for Unity Health Care, which operates a clinic in the building.
“This shelter has been wonderful about bringing people into Unity for tests. We are very committed to being where the people are,” she said.
Attendee Eric Sheptock, a shelter resident and homeless activist who chairs a task force subcommittee on community engagement said he believed the closing of the building “is inevitable.”
“What we are here for is the future of all the people that spoke,” Sheptock said.
Lisa Queen, a former shelter resident said that the shelter had served her well, up to a point, but that planning for the future should include an emphasis upon more services and more accountability.
“It’s a place to call home, but not for ten years,” she said.
City real estate developer Douglas Jemal, founder and president of Douglas Development Corp also attended the meeting. The developer, known for revitalizing historic properties for use as retail, office and residential sites, said that he was looking forward to helping address problems with homelessness in Washington.