When Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) closed down the Franklin Homeless Center in Shaw last Friday, former Franklin resident Eric Sheptock told local activists of a “sleep-out” protest in the park across the street on his blog. However, he said, he would not be able to attend, because he had to follow his belongings to a new shelter.
“I might need someone to drive me and my things from 801 East to CCNV if they have room for me,” he wrote on “On the Clock with Eric Sheptock.”
For weeks, as closely chronicled by the blog D.C. Indymedia, the pending shelter closing has been the subject of neighborhood protests organized mainly by the Washington Peace Center. Fenty closed the shelter, the only one located in downtown D.C., five days ahead of schedule against the D.C. City Council’s emergency act that required him to prove he could provide housing for 300 homeless men in D.C.
A statement from Fenty’s office read, “We are currently in the process of preparing a summary illustrating the fulfillment of the Mayor’s commitment to provide permanent supportive housing for homeless neighbors.”
According to Andy Silver, an attorney at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, Fenty has been closing shelters and promising to replace them with 2,500 housing units as part of his ten-year plan to end permanent homelessness in D.C. The goal, said Silver, is to ensure that men will no longer have to live in emergency shelters like Franklin and will become more independent as they move to their own homes.
While Silver said he did not have a problem with Fenty’s goal, he is troubled by the Mayor’s unilateral action.
“The mayor’s administration has not been forthcoming with information about why the rush about closing Franklin,” Silver said. “There seems to be no reason.”
Before its closure, the Franklin Shelter provided beds for up to 300 local homeless men on a first-come-first-serve basis. According to Silver, men are now being urged to go to Wards 7 and 8, whose shelters, he said, are overcrowded.
Cesar Maxit, an architect who volunteers at the Washington Peace Center, said that with the Franklin Center, the community is losing “a jewel.” He also pointed out that the land and building are “hugely valuable,” and suggested that Fenty may be closing the shelter in order to give the land away to developers or retailers.
At a hearing on Tuesday morning at the Superior Court, the City Council questioned Fenty’s claim that he has been able to place 300 homeless men in permanent housing. The Franklin Shelter website alleges that the Mayor has not provided enough shelter to protect the homeless from hypothermia this winter.
The housing that is currently being provided comes from landlords who are willing to release their apartments to homeless men. Most of the apartments are east of the river, which, according to Cesar Maxit, increases racism and encourages the division of classes.
“It’s a set-up,” Maxit said. “A lot of these people can’t live by themselves … They are being set up to mess up.”