Despite its lease, CCNV still welcomes children at its shelter.
Three months ago, the mayor’s office declared Federal City Shelter unfit for children. On the eve of a Washington City Paper story chronicling problems at the downtown shelter (“Helter Shelter,” 2/24), Deputy Mayor for Children and Youth Services Carolyn Graham announced that a platoon of city agency staffers would be swooping into the shelter to assess the needs of the children and their mothers, and to place them in another facility.
At the time, Graham stated that the Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV), which runs the shelter at 2nd and D Streets NW, had violated its lease by allowing children to stay at Federal City. Officially, the structure is only supposed to house adult men and women.
“It’s a cesspool,” Graham said of the shelter. “It’s a mess….We are doing something because we are concerned about the health of the children.” Within a few days, 13 families were ushered out of Federal City and placed at D.C. Village in far Southwest Washington. Graham made it clear that children would not be allowed entry into Federal City again.
Too bad Graham couldn’t stay at the shelter to enforce her edict. As of this past Friday, Federal City could still count children—at least one of whom is a toddler—among its residents. Asked about the presence of children, CCNV Executive Director Terri Bishop argues that her shelter is still the only place for families to go. Bishop says that, in some cases, families have come to Federal City at night, when it is too late for them to get processed and placed at D.C. Village.
“When they have nowhere to go, we let them in,” Bishop says. “Until they have somewhere to go, they can come here.”
The way Cornell Chappelle sees it, though, families stay at Federal City not until they have somewhere to go, but until someone from the city notices. Chappelle, the outreach coordinator for the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness—the District’s umbrella organization that oversees homeless services—says that Bishop has a blind spot for D.C. Village.
“The doors are open for them at D.C. Village,” Chappelle says. “We thought we had established a process….If they are saying that families have no other place to go, [and] then they come to them, that is not true. They do have another place.”
And so far, that other place—D.C. Village—has been successful in meeting the needs of its new tenants. Six of the 14 families that first moved there from Federal City found housing, four left the new facility on their own accord, and four others were placed in family shelters and connected to support services.
The exact number of children currently at Federal City remains a question. On May 12, Sandi Royster, the director of the women’s floor, stated that there were seven families and “about 11” children. Royster said she couldn’t give an exact figure since the families constantly come and go. On Sunday night, Bishop said in a phone interview that there are 19 children at Federal City; on Monday, Bishop sent a fax stating that she houses 17 children as of last week.
The questionable records seem to fit a pattern with CCNV. Chappelle says that the shelter often fails to report when children move in. “We ask them to call us the next day,” he says, adding that he is usually the one who makes the follow-up contact. “We’ve been calling. Then you wait a couple of days. Then we call back. Now we got eight families.”
When children enter Federal City, they are supposed to be directed to the Virginia Williams Family Resource Center at 25 M St. SW, where all families are assessed and placed accordingly. But Chappelle says the families, for whatever reason, aren’t coming to 25 M St.
Royster admits that some of the families have been residing at Federal City for at least a month. Still, Royster insists that communication between CCNV and D.C. Village works well and that all families will eventually be moved. Families staying at Federal City must fill out a “guest registration form” which stipulates that CCNV “reserves the right to require me to (1) report to 25 M Street within 24 hours.” But the form also states that the family could be forced to leave “immediately and without further notice.”
According to Sue Marshall, the Community Partnership’s executive director, six families currently reside at D.C. Village—considerably less than its 28-family capacity. Marshall isn’t sure why CCNV still has children tenants. “That’s the question you need to ask of the city,” Marshall says.
For its part, the mayor’s office is reacting in measured tones to the reports of further improper housing of children at the shelter. “While we support the work of Ms. Bishop in protecting the safety and welfare of children and families, we will continue to work very aggressively with CCNV through the community partnership to ensure that children and their families are properly housed,” says mayoral Director of Communications Lydia Sermons.
Although families at Federal City refused to talk to a reporter, the families that were moved to D.C. Village following City Paper’s February story seem to be happy. They live in D.C. Village’s 2A building, a one-floor school-style facility that is quiet and clean compared to Federal City’s run-down barracks-style lodgings. One mother, who refused to give her name, says that although her new home is far from downtown, it beats Federal City. “It’s beautiful,” she says. CP