Sunday, September 2, 2012

DC's CCNV Shelter is Threatened With Closure AGAIN (2011 & 2012)

On Friday, August 31st, 2012 all 300 men on the third floor of the CCNV shelter received notices which, among other things, stated that the shelter might close as early as next year. The Federal City Shelter (which actually has three separate shelters within it) holds 1,350 of DC's 7,000+ homeless people. CCNV holds 750 itself. In April 2013 we may lose 1,600 to 2,000 shelter beds. I'll do a new blog post about it ASAP.

Last year's blog post (unchanged):

We all know that rumors are often circulated by well-meaning people who take a grain of truth and unwittingly add a pound of error. This is as true in the world of homeless advocacy as it is in the larger community. That is why on July 14th, while at a COHHO (Coalition Of Housing and Homeless Organizations) meeting, I made it a point to ASK whether or not what I'd heard about the sale of the defunct DC General Hospital which is now home to a women's shelter and a family shelter was true. The mostly empty hospital was slated to be developed as part of the Hill East subdivision project before the economy went south. I found out during this meeting that the development plans have not been resurrected -- YET. So, we can all breathe a sigh of relief. Ahhhhh!

Then again, rumors were circulated on a regular basis about the impending closure of the Franklin School Shelter. It eventually was closed in September 2008. So, what started out as a rumor did eventually materialize into the truth. Interestingly enough, I personally heard the men say that they'd heard those rumors before and that the shelter wouldn't be closed. And they said this right up until the time that people from DC Government's Dept. of Human Services (DHS) came to the shelter to explain how the closure would be executed and to field questions.

Rumors are circulated on a yearly basis about there being plans to close the CCNV (Community for Creative Non-Violence) Shelter which holds 750 people -- with other shelters in the same large building holding another 600 homeless people. It's being said again. But this time around the staff has explained that this is the real deal. However it is a conditional threat -- one which might be averted.

The CCNV Shelter was opened in 1988 due to the direct action of dozens of homeless people under the leadership of Mitch Snyder. That year Mitch Snyder and Ronald Reagan signed a restrictive covenant which stated that the building would remain a shelter and continue to serve the homeless community until at least 2018. Though they are both dead now, their covenant still holds power. However, the building being perceived as a health hazard -- whether or not it actually is -- always gives government a seemingly legitimate reason for closing a building. After all, former DC mayor Adrian Fenty used such reasoning to close the DC Village Family Shelter as well as Franklin School which held 300 men just prior to its closing.

One of CCNV's volunteer staff explained the situation to me: "DHS and the Dept. of Real Estate Services (DRES) will inspect the building on July 15th. Though the building maintenance is done by DRES, we at CCNV (which is run by volunteer staff) are 20% responsible for the upkeep of the building. The government is inspecting many government buildings across the city that are being poorly maintained and this is one of them. Several departments of the government will inspect the building over the next 2 weeks. If we fail any of the inspections, the building could be closed."

I then said, "I'm trying to imagine what they would do with 1,350 homeless people (one-fifth of DC's homeless population)."

He continued "That's already been discussed. The city would get rid of the CCNV management and bring in their own paid staff who would be charged with shutting down the shelter. They would phase it out in 6 to 8 months by making people leave and find somewhere to go. Within a year the place would be empty. That's why we are going to keep the lights on late tonight so that people can do a thorough cleaning." (Though not the nicest place in the world, the building IS actually cleaned on a regular basis.)

An interesting caveat which I see fit to mention is that, while Mayor Fenty began housing programs in conjunction with the shelter closures that occurred on his watch, that is not likely to happen during the Gray administration due to the worse economic conditions that now exist. The homeless are liable to just be put out with nowhere to go -- possibly through "attrition" as people are penalized and barred by the new shelter staff. So, let's hope that they pass the inspections that will occur over the next 2 weeks. There's a lot at stake.

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