Reginald Black

The future of the historic Federal City Shelter at Second and D Streets NW remains uncertain as a specially-appointed task force charged with planning its future continues its deliberations and gathers feedback from men and women who are staying at the shelter.

A federal agreement requiring that the crumbling 1350-bed facility be used for homeless services expires in 2016. The sprawling shelter is often referred to simply as CCNV for the Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV), the activist group that turned the former federal college building into a shelter in the 1980s.

At an April meeting to discuss the property, the CCNV shelter task force offered insight to members of the DC City Council and the mayor.

Richard Bradley, executive director of Downtown DC Business Improvement District, a nonprofit organization concerned with the city’s physical, economic and social environment, presented some task force findings as well as options for recommendations to city officials. Ward 1 City Councilman Jim Graham, who chairs the council’s human services committee, said plans are at a critical stage.

Over months of meetings, the task force has weighed a number of issues, including how best to serve the homeless, whether by building a new facility or refurbishing the current building on the site.They have also discussed what kind of services and housing should be provided and whether the special needs of different segments of the homeless population could be better addressed by a new facility than in the current emergency shelter.

Panel members said they liked the idea of different kinds of housing for different groups, and said they believed services should remain on-site. They also had a positive view of making a priority of serving individuals with disabilities, the elderly and those who are long-term, chronically homeless.

Bradley said the task force has arrived at some good recommendations and has found ways to aggregate services. He described possible unit-style housing with about 200 square feet per person, which would be a different approach than the current dorm-style accommodations. He noted that very few locations exist with large numbers of building units for homeless people. Another possible option would be to sell the entire property; this would require relocating residents for up to three years to a building behind the existing structure and eventual relocation to the new site.

There was a feeling that the future of CCNV should be tied to a concrete measure to end chronic homelessness. “I think we can do a lot more to address the issues that drop people here,” said Julia Lightfoot, executive director of Clean and Sober Streets.

Task force members said they felt that any new development should be sustainable and environmentally-friendly. Members also want the redevelopment phase to include efforts to enable families, including families with no children, to be housed or sheltered together regardless of gender.

But Diana Pillsbury, an advocate for the homeless, said the task force process is undemocratic. She was of the opinion that the homeless do not have a real voice at the table, aside from CCNV Executive Director Rico Harris.

Schyla Pondexter-Moore of Empower DC’s public housing campaign said any planning should include people of low income because public housing is never in the equation.

With little consensus, the task force ended the April meeting with a plan to hold another session soon in preparation for a public hearing and begin to finalize the plan for the property.

A second meeting of the CCNV task force was held on May 1 to discuss and possibly vote on a statement of principles.

Graham said that he was under the impression the May 1 meeting might be the last.
“If we come together, we can do great things,” he said. “We’re maintaining a model for wraparound services.”

Patty Mullahy Fugere from the Washington Legal Clinic said there was agreement about obtaining a state-of-the-art assessment of the building, and the group wanted to make sure to include housing first in its recommendations. Fugere said the group wanted to make sure that excellent programming would be part of the redevelopment. She also proposed a 24-hour low barrier shelter be included in the redevelopment.

Bradley said that green and sustainable means healthy, referring to the possibility of new construction on the site. He also stressed the importance of needing a clear understanding about which individuals need services and those who do not.

“What we are suggesting here is several different models,” he said.

Although most people at the meeting were optimistic, some were concerned. Lightfoot said she felt the recommendations were a completely different model from the current one employed by CCNV. “You don’t want to accommodate just a few people,” she said. “The concept behind this building was 24-hour care.”

And in reality, she said, many men and women do not have any place to go.

CCNV director Harris said that the approach to the shelter should be thought through in the process and that the front door needs to stay open — wide open. There are “people in this room because the city ran out of vouchers,” he said.

During the meeting, care providers came under fire from residents and advocates.

CCNV resident Shacona Ward compared Harris to famed advocate Mitch Snyder. She described Harris as a “blocker” and said she feels the changes aren’t sufficient. Ward also stressed a need to expose things for the way they are.

Abdul R. Tawaab, another resident of CCNV, said the community shelter should be run more democratically and that conditions needed to be drastically improved. .

“Rico Harris, I think he should encourage participation,” Tawaab said. “There are so many horrendous acts that go on here, people in here are terrified. I don’t think this project should be rushed because of some deadline, my purpose here is to find a way to eradicate homelessness. I’m here to get out of here.”

Valerie Williams, a member of the Organization of United People, said people are afraid and reaching out. “People be coming to us are afraid, this has to stop,” she said. “There is a way and compassion for things. If your heart not right, you not right, so y’all get it right or move on.”

Homeless advocate Eric Sheptock, another ex officio member of the task force, said he felt the committee was doing things over peoples’ heads.

The task force voted in favor of a statement of principles, deciding that the information should be circulated to all providers to gather residents’ input.