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Ward 8 residents decry homeless move

(Published July 17, 2000)

By JOEL FURFARI

Staff Writer

Ward 8 already is home to a sewage treatment plant, a naval research lab, a mental hospital and an impoundment lot, and residents recently blocked a new prison in their backyard.

Now Ward 8 residents are complaining about being dumped on again -- and neighbors east of the Anacostia River arenít rolling out the welcome wagon this time either.

Last month, Deputy Mayor Carolyn Graham introduced an informal plan to move the cityís homeless services from a network of downtown centers into a "one-stop center" domiciled at the city-owned D.C. Village site at the extreme southern tip of the District.

The deputy mayor for children, youth and families said the homeless village is just a "concept," not a concrete plan. But the idea has already galvanized opposition among an ad hoc coalition of advocates for the homeless and Ward 8 activists who consider it just another attempt to push the homeless from downtown and put them in an area that they say already serves the city as a Siberia-like dumping ground for public projects.

Graham said that when she described the plan for the Homeless Assistance Center to members of the cityís homeless population, they were pleased. "I call it a village of restoration and hope," she said.

But at a July 7 meeting of the planís opponents, words like "gulag" and "homeless reservation" were used to describe Grahamís concept. One activist called the plan "nothing more than out of sight, out of mind."

"We are not going out to Ward 8. We are not going anywhere because weíre still in the planning phase," Graham said. "The group (of activists) that floated this intentional misinformation wants to incite and excite this community unnecessarily."

Graham said she got the idea for the homeless camps from Miami and Broward County in Florida. The centers are set up to provide a variety of services such as legal aid, substance abuse programs, child care, job training and healthcare to the homeless.

But some homeless residents and others who work with the downtown homeless shelters say the ones who need the most care and arenít motivated wonít want to make the trek to D.C. Village.

Mary Ann Luby of the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless said she spoke with colleagues in Florida who said the centers there are "much less successful for anybody with chronic mental illnesses."

While the homeless apparently donít want to be moved out of downtown shelters, Ward 8 residents donít like the plan either.

"Since we donít have even the things we need, there needs to be a moratorium on things we donít need (in Ward 8)," said Eugene Dewitt Kinlow, a ward activist who fought a prison proposed by Corrections Corp. of America.

The environmental condition of the D.C. Village site also presents concerns, some opponents to the homeless center said. Anna El-Eini of Friends of the Earth said D.C. Village wouldnít be a safe place to house the homeless.

"The health concern is very, very legitimate because youíve got Blue Plains (wastewater treatment plant) right there," she said.

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator