The Fenty administration has reportedly awarded the Gales School RFP to the Central Union Mission. The District has made no official pronouncement on the subject, and would not return repeated calls, but on Friday, Clarence Carter, the Director of the DC Department of Human Services, told Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) that the Department awarded the contract to the Mission.
The Department of Real Estate Services (DRES) issued an RFP in January and twice extended the submission deadline, originally set for February 16th and ultimately enforced March 26th. At the time, a DRES representative told DCMud it had received three applications, though Carter only acknowledged two. The respondents were the Central Union Mission and Ready, Willing & Working Inc. (RWW).
The Mission plans to match the service they now offer on 14th Street, NW, expanding from 135 beds to at least 150 beds for the men's Christian homeless shelter. The Mission will likely add to the rear of the building with a design by Cox Graae and Spack Architects of Georgetown, a build-out that would allow for kitchens and extra classrooms.
The other applicant, a joint venture between RWW, the Doe Fund Inc. and Building Partnerships, proposed to convert the school into a facility providing housing and job training for upwards of 100 homeless and formerly incarcerated men.
Friday's semi-announcement caught many observers by surprise, including Councilmember Tommy Wells, who had asked Carter for an update during a hearing. Wells commented that "the proposal by RWW is still something that is needed by the city..." Carter indicated his agency hopes to find space for RWW on the campus of St. Elizabeths.
When asked for additional details on the award and a timeline for construction, Charles Allen, the spokesperson for Tommy Wells, replied in an email, "The Friday hearing was the first we had heard about it...we are working to follow-up and get more information." Sources familiar with the Mission's project were equally surprised and eager to learn more about the award. Several calls and emails to the District Government for additional details were not returned.
The Mission's bumpy past with the Gales School boils down to concerns over government subsidies going to religious organizations. The America Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit claiming an Establishment Clause violation - i.e. separation of church and state - because a previous agreement reportedly would have netted $12 million for the Mission (including the property value), which requires homeless men to participate in religious services in return for room, board and counseling services. In a previous conversation, David Treadwell, Executive Director of the Central Union Mission, said, "I can't speak for the ACLU, but I believe the concern was more the $7 million than the property exchange" in the previous RFP; this year's RFP did not include a monetary exchange.
In March, Arthur Spitzer, Legal Director of the ACLU, said his organization has no problem with religious organizations running social services. The problem is when those services are only offered in exchange for "hellfire and brimstone" proselytizing services. Ultimately, Spitzer said, he "hopes they have made this into a fair process" and if it is, and if the Mission wins, then "perhaps that will be OK."
Addendum: In the wake of this report, the District made their announcement official with this announcement.
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