I am writing this letter to thank you for the articles you have written in concern for the people within your society (“Helter Shelter,” 2/25; “Throw Momma From the Shelter,” 3/3). Not only did you depict the Federal City Shelter as more than uninhabitable, but you classified it, shortchanged it, and rearranged the already ignoring eyes to the ever-growing statistics of the homeless population throughout the D.C. metropolitan area.
I applaud the sincerity used in pointing out the things the shelter has had to face regarding the building’s faulty structure and pest control. Though in your eyes it has been a hidden concern, for us the city finally knows the conditions that the mayor has let us endure. You gave no attention to the programs offered to residents here to become viable parts of the society you say cares for them so much. But it is only fair to point out that we have not been offered funding by the city or its members within the community who pass by this shelter each day.
It is my understanding through studies into our presence in this building that it was falling to pieces when the Community for Creative Non-Violence first came here, but once again, the main highlights were reported—only then it was a haven to get people off the streets and out of sight, so minimal repairs were considered the best resort at that time.
Ask yourself what your real purpose is. Mine is the desire to see a new way of life for my community, though this same concept may not be shared by all those in these walls—or even outside them. The staffers do their best to provide hope to those within.
I have varied educational skills and certificates in many fields—health, management, and interpersonal relations—and though I was interviewed, I believe my comments on the real issues being addressed were not brought to light. Though your article seemed on target, you failed to mention the past articles in your own paper about the classes we hold for kids in art, or the computer training offered to homeless and the community, or the GED classes that more than a hundred residents have passed, or the assistance given to those needing identification or birth certificates. You also deemed it unnecessary to mention that all staff members are required to do 40 hours of training a year associated with the area in which they volunteer—but this is needless, because the shelter is still falling down around us, and effective fundraising projects are represented as a futile attempt to help us continue to mask the real things we do here.
I see this shelter’s mission as very much like the building concept you and the mayor’s office are stressing. When you want to build on valuable land, it takes an interested buyer with the money to purchase it; contractors, planners, and electricians to devise a plan; and workers to build from the proposed layout. When all you have is the contractors, planners, and electricians, who buys the materials? Who pays the wages? Who is the interested party? Who gives them assistance when questions need to be answered?
I believe we are all intelligent people. Should I have to tell you that people die—the news confirms this each day—for many different causes? You make it seem as if most of the people here have no health issues. You concern yourself with eight people—which is incorrect—who passed away within these walls, and not with the numbers of those who pass away in the night without anyone there to call an ambulance at their last moment.
You depicted the children as so bad off that the issue of their taking weekly field trips, art classes once a week, martial arts classes, or the after-school program was left out. But you’re right: They were not happy—or did you even bother to ask them to speak for themselves? I am sure their new dwelling serves all the needs a child has. We, with our meager efforts, just tried to conquer the displacement the homeless suffer. I see that this was a main issue for you as well, taking them from an environment most had existed in for months, where they had received mail, taken classes, and made friends.
I thank you, one humanitarian to another, for looking at homelessness and wanting to change the cycle of those who utilize them for a story, to make money, or as numbers to spur funding from a government that only compromises when the issue makes a purpose of financial gain.
Director of Arts & Education
Federal City Shelter