Excess federal property may shelter homeless Presidential order is to open up old bases, buildings

February 03, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration is drafting an executive order to allow surplus military bases and other excess federal property to be used as shelters for homeless people.

Henry Cisneros, the new secretary of housing and urban development, says he is studying selected buildings on decommissioned bases near urban areas, including old barracks and officers' quarters, as part of the administration's plan to convert defense facilities to civilian use.

Appearing on NBC's "Today" show yesterday, Mr. Cisneros said "not all military bases . . . make sense. Many of them are out in the country." But for some bases scheduled for closure near cities, individual buildings "could be converted into facilities for the homeless as well as low-income housing," he said.

During the election campaign, Mr. Clinton repeatedly called for greater federal efforts to ease the problems of homelessness, including the use of abandoned military bases as the Pentagon scales back its budget and manpower needs.

Mr. Cisneros, a former mayor of San Antonio, said "it's critical, as we wind down the military machinery of the Cold War . . . that we make every effort to make that conversion [useful] to those most needy in our society. I know the president believes this because he sent me a note on it," he said.

HUD officials say they are working on a presidential order, to be issued in the coming weeks, that would set aside mainly surplus military facilities for the homeless. But it would also earmark other excess federal property, including unused federal office buildings, post offices or an occasional unused veterans hospital, they say.

"Out of more than 100 military facilities to be closed domestically, we believe 20 to 25 might be appropriate for the homeless," one official says. "But we want to get local communities involved in the decision-making."

Officials say they had no estimate at present on how many homeless people could be assisted by the use of surplus military or other excess federal property, and Mr. Cisneros stressed he could not pledge to eliminate homelessness.

Legal experts say an executive order would cut through bureaucratic obstacles of the 1987 act that sought to identify excess property.

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