- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 8, 2002

Three advocates for the homeless were arrested yesterday and nine others were ushered out of City Hall after they stormed D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams' office demanding a meeting and blaming the mayor for hypothermia deaths in the city.
"We're calling on the mayor to make more beds available for the homeless when it's freezing outside," said Deirdre Farrell, a member of the Olive Branch homeless advocacy group based in Northwest.
Miss Farrell, 19, spoke to a reporter from The Washington Times as she ran down 14th Street towards 1st District Police Headquarters, where the arrested activists were taken on charges of unlawful entry.
Mr. Williams, a Democrat, did not meet with the activists, who arrived at the building before 10 a.m., because he "had a very busy schedule" yesterday, said chief spokesman Tony Bullock.
"We need at least a week to schedule meetings," Mr. Bullock said. "What they did was not a very productive way to advance their issue."
Carolyn Graham, deputy mayor for children, youth and families, offered to see the activists, but when three in the group refused to leave the area in front of Mr. Williams' office, they were arrested, Mr. Bullock said.
City officials defended the mayor yesterday afternoon, citing a new policy he put in place this year to serve the homeless on freezing cold nights in response to the high number of deaths last year. There were seven confirmed deaths from freezing during last year's hypothermia season Nov. 1 through March 1.
On Oct. 31, Mr. Williams announced a "hypothermia watch," urging businesses and the public to call a citywide hot line at 800/535-7252 if they see anyone who appears at risk of freezing to death. The mayor also ramped up the enforcement of laws that allow the forcible removal of drunk or mentally ill homeless people who refuse to go into a shelter.
"Last year, we did not force people to be picked up," said Carolyn Colvin, director of the D.C. Department of Human Services (DHS). "This year, if a person appears to be at risk of freezing and they refuse to go to a shelter, then they are forcefully taken in."
"The goal is to not have anyone die of hypothermia," she said. "Of course, we're not going to be able to locate every person. That's why getting the community involved is so important." Making the policy work depends on striking a "delicate balance" between an individual's right to stay out and die and the city's right to save them, she added.
On nights when the temperature dips below freezing, the city issues Hypothermia Alerts, which send teams of emergency technicians to respond to the hot line calls. So far this year, there have been six such alerts, Mr. Bullock said.
Dr. Jonathan Arden, the District's chief medical examiner, said since the season began, one person is confirmed to have died from hypothermia. The unidentified homeless man was found Christmas morning and died the following day at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Northwest. An autopsy revealed that the white man, in his 50s or 60s, had alcohol in his system.
But members of Olive Branch said they know of more than one homeless person who has frozen to death this year. Jennifer Finnegan said she and others in the organization, which runs an outdoor soup kitchen in Franklin Park on Sundays, were told by several homeless people that another man froze to death last week.
Miss Finnegan said the man died because city-run homeless shelters suffer an overflow on freezing nights. Many homeless say "it is like slave-ship conditions," she said.
"The hypothermia watch program is really a joke," said Olive Branch member Antwan Brown, 41. "People resist going into the shelters because it's too crowded."
The activists demanded that the mayor reopen the Reeves Center, the municipal office building at 14th and U streets NW, which until last year housed the homeless on nights when the temperature dipped below freezing.
City officials yesterday disagreed about whether the Reeves Center's closure last year has caused any overflow problems. Mr. Bullock said there is "nothing magical" about the Reeves Center.
"As a government office building, it is not an appropriate shelter," he said. "The city has established sufficient space in other locations since the center stopped being a shelter," he said.
But Miss Colvin said city-run shelters are currently about 50 people over capacity in terms of the number of beds available for single homeless men and women on freezing nights.
Before the Reeves Center closed, another facility the empty Gale School building at 65 Massachusetts Ave. NW opened to compensate for the loss of beds on cold nights, she said. The Gale School has 150 beds and the Reeves Center had 50 beds in.
When the Reeves Center closed, the city lost 50 beds. Miss Colvin said that even though there are extra cots in Gale, the overflow is a result of the Reeves closure.
Ricardo Lyles, a spokesman for the family-services branch of the DHS said the city is working with churches, particularly in the Mt. Pleasant area of Northwest, to compensate for the crowding.
"We think we'll be able to make up the 50 beds," Mr. Lyles said. "We do have temporary accommodations like cots and blankets set up for people who are freezing outside, but can't get a bed."
Miss Finnegan said she and the other activists wanted a meeting with the mayor because they're "desperate to get the message across …."
"If they have overflow facilities available, then why is there an overflow?" she asked.

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