Monday, July 16, 2007

A D.C. Council member says city officials have settled on two possible sites near a Northeast shopping plaza for a center to help reduce problems created by the crowds of people who gather daily looking for work.

“The training center, quite frankly, has to be where it would reduce the impact of the guys that are coming,” said Harry Thomas Jr., Ward 5 Democrat.

Brentwood residents near the plaza are upset and want a solution to the problems, which include some day-laborers drinking on street corners, relieving themselves on walls and sleeping under porches.

One site is between the Home Depot and a Bank of America in the plaza, in the 900 block of Rhode Island Avenue Northeast.

The property’s development rights belong to Home Depot, which city officials hope will donate the use of the land.

Many residents oppose having the facility near the bank, and the bank’s management has considered fencing the property in, Mr. Thomas said.

Branch officials did not return a call left with an employee Saturday seeking comment.

Mr. Thomas secured $500,000 in budget funding to build the center, which he hopes will connect day laborers and local residents to jobs by offering training and employment services. He also said the center would be a multicultural facility and include restrooms.

It is not clear how or whether D.C. officials will check the immigration status of the day laborers, a group that typically includes illegal aliens.

Mr. Thomas said the D.C. Department of Employment Services, which would help run the site under his plan, would make that decision.

Agency spokeswoman Diana Johnson said officials are required to check the legal status for people seeking federal aid or entering some federally funded programs at employment centers run by the agency. However, she also said it was too early to announce whether they would be required to do so at the D.C. site.

The Metropolitan Police Department also has a policy that prohibits officers from asking a person’s immigration status.

The other site is between the back of the Home Depot and the Israel Baptist Church, near the intersection of 13th Street and Brentwood Road Northeast.

Mr. Thomas hopes to have a temporary center opened by month’s end to accommodate the estimated 200 laborers drawn to the plaza mostly by contractors going to the Home Depot.

Raymond Chandler, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in the area, said his constituents do not want the center near the bank and would prefer it across the street or at an existing facility not in a residential neighborhood.

“We’re already fighting a situation with what we have there now,” he said. “Why would we put something on that site when we can’t take care of what we have already? It is too much for one small area.”

Mr. Thomas initially envisioned the facility as a public-private partnership between the city government and the Home Depot.

Company executives have so far cooperated with such projects in other parts of the country. And a Home Depot spokesman said in May that officials were discussing the project with Mr. Thomas.

Still, the company has given mixed signals about its willingness to cooperate with such projects.

In California, some city governments required the home-improvement chain to build facilities for day laborers.

However, the company supported an amendment to an immigration bill defeated in the Senate last month that would have banned city councils from requiring stores to provide shelter and services for day-labor sites.

The owner of the vacant gravel lot behind the Home Depot is behind in taxes, a representative from Mr. Thomas’ office said. City officials will meet next week to explore the possibility of the District taking ownership of the lot.

Property records show the parcel was sold April 6 to Havilah Real Property Services LLC for $2.5 million.

Day-laborer facilities in Montgomery County and in Herndon have generated debate over officials’ use of tax dollars to fund the centers.

The Washington D.C. Workers Union, an ad hoc group formed to represent the interests of day laborers in the city, said the problems in the plaza are caused by only a few of those present.

Mr. Thomas said Saturday that he hopes, at the very least, to place temporary modular structures at the plaza this month to solve problems in the short term.

“We need a temporary solution,” he said. “It’s just so problematic, we have to do something.”

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