Emergency Package Proposed for Homeless as Protesters Dramatize Plight
WASHINGTON (AP) _ House leaders on Thursday proposed a $500 million emergency package of food, shelter and other aid to homeless Americans and said they hoped to get the money flowing by early spring.
As the bipartisan effort was being announced, protesters from the Community for Creative Non-Violence were told they and their statue dramatizing the plight of the homeless would be removed from the Capitol grounds.
″Their sense of timing is about the worst I’ve ever seen,″ said Mitch Snyder, leader of CCNV’s crusade on behalf of the homeless, a quilt wrapped around him as he huddled next to the statue.
″And still there is no room at the inn″ reads the inscription on the statue, which depicts a homeless couple and child in a nativity pose. The statue was erected during the holiday season on the East Front of the Capitol. Demonstrators at the site Thursday held a banner that said ″Congress Shelter the Homeless.″
Under Capitol regulations, props considered part of demonstrations must be moved off the grounds at least every 24 hours.
CCNV’s demonstration permit expired Dec. 30, but the group has received reprieves since then from House leaders who allowed the vigil to continue.
Capitol police had decided to evict the protesters, who have kept a vigil since Thanksgiving, and remove the sculpture, by 4 p.m. Thursday. But CCNV won a one-night extension after Rep. Henry Gonzalez, D-Tex., chairman of the House housing subcommittee, pleaded its case to the leadership.
″The speaker and majority leader decided not to push the issue tonight,″ said Gerry McMurray, staff director of the subcommittee. ″They’ll try to deal with this issue tomorrow.″
The House package includes $170 million for emergency shelter, $100 million for family housing, $30 million for transitional housing and $50 million for new health care programs for the homeless. It also contains money to renovate government property and buildings to help the homeless.
House Democratic Leader Thomas Foley said the bill had 50 co-sponsors from both parties and more members were expected to sign on.
″There is key support ... on both sides of the aisle. We expect early action,″ Foley, D-Wash., said at a news conference.
Gonzalez said he had scheduled hearings to start Feb. 11.
He said he was optimistic about the bill’s prospects because President Reagan proposed $100 million for the homeless in his new budget - ″the first acceptance of the administration that there is a responsbility on the federal level.″
″All of us agree that one of the top priorities of the federal government is to see that nobody in this country goes hungry and nobody goes without shelter,″ said Rep. John Miller, R-Wash.
Rep. Bruce Vento, D-Minn., credited with introducing the first bill on homelessness four years ago, said the problem is not short-term and won’t go away.
″Blocks from the seat of government we can see literally dozens of homeless on the street any night of the year,″ he said, referring to the mushrooming problem in Washington. ″Right now we have a crisis ... and we’re not anywhere near meeting that need.″
Snyder, who has drawn national attention to the homeless problem through dramatic fasts and other means, said the bill is a good one but noted it has not been introduced yet in the Senate and is some distance from becoming reality.
″We want to remain here until the legislation has passed,″ he said. ″It seems appropriate that the symbol of the homeless be allowed to remain here while Congress is deliberating their fate.″
The Democratic leadership, key committee chairmen and senior Republicans are committed to moving the homeless bill as fast as possible, members said Thursday. But even if Congress acts with unusual speed and unanimity, the money will not be available to help the homeless this winter.
″We can’t turn the clock back,″ Rep. Bill Lowery, R-Calif., told reporters.
″We should have done this last year,″ Gonzalez said later, talking to Snyder in the chilly, windswept Capitol parking lot.