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Official Winter is Over; Back to the Streets

The District's hypothermia, or winter, shelters close this morning, leaving more than 300 homeless men with no place to go other than back to the streets, according to the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless.

At the official start of hypothermia season -- last Nov.1 -- the city temporarily opened or expanded space at eight shelters throughout the city. As of yesterday, there were 75 families housed at the now-defunct D.C. General Hospital; 535 men in eight shelters and 185 women in three hypothermia shelters.

Mary Ann Luby, the legal clinic's outreach coordinator, said new D.C. government rules call for keeping the 75 families at D.C. General until sufficient "apartment-style shelter space," otherwise known as transitional housing, is found for them to move into. "That is to their credit," Luby says of the city.

The women can be absorbed by two permanent women's shelters run by Catholic Charities and Community of Hope in downtown D.C., and 231 men will be able to stay at three hypothermia shelters being kept open longer by Catholic Charities. But another 304 men, at four temporary winter shelters, will have to go back to the street or "the doorway or park bench they came from," Luby says.

The way Luby sees it, the city ultimately loses by closing the temporary shelters because the men, who are generally chronically homeless, managed to overcome psychological and emotional barriers to come in off the street.

"Once people get into the rhythm of coming in to a shelter -- and if the place is the least tiny bit hospitable, they'll come back -- that's an opportunity to offer services," she says. "I always want to capitalize on those moments. If you turn them out on the street, what kind of trust can you build? They need to try to engage them and try to figure out what they need."

By Sylvia Moreno  |  April 1, 2008; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  City Life  
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