Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Housing One-Fifth of DC's 7,000 Homeless in One Fell Swoop?!



On October 31st, 2013 the CCNV Task Force which is headed by DC Councilman Jim Graham will meet on the 3rd floor (3-North) of CCNV which is located at 425 2nd Street NW, Washington, DC. It is located right on the edge of Capitol Hill and is metro accessible, being 2 blocks from the Judiciary Square Metro Station and 3 blocks from Union Station (both on the Red Line). The D6 bus stops right in front of the shelter (as long as the driver doesn't refuse to do so). The meeting is open to the public.

Here's a brief account of what got us to this point.....

The Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV) homeless shelter was established in the 1980's by Vietnam-era veterans who'd renounced violence, thus the name. Through the direct action of Mitch Snyder and dozens of homeless people (many young and old veterans being homeless even in this day and age), a vacant federal building was wrested from the Reagan administration and given to DC Government with strings attached. The building would have to serve homeless people for at least 30 years beginning on July 7th, 1986. If the city complied with this and others terms until at least July 7th, 2016 they would gain full ownership of the building and could do as the please with it.

SHARC (Shelter, Housing And Respectful Change), the group of homeless advocates of which I'm the chairman, has brought the impending end of the federal covenant to the forefront and asked city officials what their plans are for the property and its 1,350 residents come 2016. We did the research, sent it to DC Councilman Jim Graham who oversees the Dept. of Human Services, attended a hearing that was convened by Mr. Graham, did outreach to get others to the hearing and are now involved in the task force process.

During the June 27th CCNV hearing, about a dozen homeless people and a few homeless service providers testified about services offered within the building, needed improvements to services, additional services that should be offered, maintenance problems and the behavior of staff. The Dept. of Human Services (DHS) and the Dept. of General Services (DGS) which maintains DC Government buildings were also there. But the one major decision to come out of the hearing was the decision to create the CCNV Task Force.

The task force has at least 16 members not counting the chairman, Councilman jim Graham. Half have voting power and the other half are ex-officio members who lack voting power. I'm an ex-officio member. As it turns out, most of those who have voting power (5) have neither been homeless nor worked closely with the homeless. On the other hand, most of the ex-officio members (6) HAVE either been homeless or worked closely with the homeless. The homeless and their advocates find this to be a disappointing way of appointing people to positions. We continue to raise our voices concerning this matter. But it also begs the question: "What was the rationale for determining who would or wouldn't have voting power on the CCNV Task Force?????"

The task force held its first meeting on October 8th during which we primarily discussed the task force process and why we were all there. The second meeting will take place on October 31st. (See first paragraph.) This meeting will address legal issues. We'll need to look at the Mckinney-Vento Act, a federal law pertaining to the delivery of homeless services. That law was created by Mitch Snyder and company. Some of the lawyers who fought for the homeless in the 1980's and were instrumental in creating that law are still practicing and are involved with the task force and with SHARC. We also need to look at paperwork pertaining to the transfer of property from the federal government to DC Government. There is the original paperwork from 1986 and there are 2 quitclaim deeds from 1991 and 1993. This should be fun. (I say that sarcastically.)

It is important to note that all else which the task force does will flow from what is determined tomorrow, though chances are that we won't fully address all legal issues in this one meeting. But whenever we adequately address legal issues, we'll then be able to formulate a legally realistic vision for the property and its residents.

The task force as a body is several steps behind SHARC and others in its thought process. I guess that's to be expected. So, the task force has not stated its desire or even a possible vision for the property or the people in it. SHARC, on the other hand, has learned that it's feasible that we could build 2 buildings which have a total of 800,000 square feet on the property.

We've even taken it a bit further by doing the math. If we estimate that 10% of the square footage will go toward halls, stairwells, utility rooms and the like, that leaves 720,000 sq. ft. of usable space. We want 80% of that space to be used for affordable housing for the homeless (residents of CCNV and the Federal City Shelter) and 20% to be used for homeless services and retail. (All new DC buildings must be multi-purpose by law.) That means that 576,000 would go toward housing the homeless and 144,000 sq. ft. would go toward other homeless services and retail. With 576,000 sq. ft. for housing, we could create 640 units at 900 sq. ft. each; create 960 units at 66 sq. ft. each or create 1,440 units at 400 sq. ft. each (which is very small). In the end, the zoning commission decides how many units can be put into a new development. I'm banking on the 640-unit figure or something close to it; but, I'd be ecstatic if they allowed 960 units to be built there.

In any instance, any plan to close the CCNV/FCS Shelter would have to include housing at least 1,350 people. We'll house as many as possible in the new development and would need to find places throughout the city to house the difference.

In closing I'll say that this is the next chapter of the Mitch Snyder-CCNV saga. In the 1980's the story of how this shelter was created made national headlines. Stars such as Martin Sheen, Whoopi Goldberg and Cher got involved. PBS broadcasts aired "Promises to Keep",an hour-long documentary around the world. The lingering effects of what Mitch and others did over 25 years ago include the McKinney-Vento Homeless Services Act which was renamed the H.E.A.R.T.H. (Homeless Emergency Assistance, Rapid Transition to Housing) Act and signed by Barack Obama on May 20th, 2009. But tucked neatly away with the Act is a thing called Title V. Title V gives local homeless services first dibs at any federal property that becomes surplus. Homeless service providers are first in the pecking order -- before the state government or local government and before the right of first refusal kicks in or the property goes on the open market. Unfortunately, Title V is grossly underused with only 85 of the 70,000 vacant federal properties having been acquired through this mechanism since the law was created in 1987. The CCNV/Federal City Shelter was the first property transferred under Title V. What happens with CCNV therefore sets a precedent for all other Title V properties. Mitch and company gave us a lot. His is a big pair of shoes to fill. Nevertheless, we must keep pressing on -- not just for things that will help the homeless in the immediate such as food, clothing and shelter; but also for an end to homelessness through the creation of living-wage jobs and affordable housing.

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