More Info About Gales School

As you may know, Gales School is a historic building in DC which is slated to be turned into a homeless shelter. It served as a homeless shelter from 2000 to 2004 and then was closed so as to be renovated. Much controversy has arisen over the fate of this building. It is supposed to serve as a replacement for the Central Union Mission which is presently located at 14th and R streets, NW. However, the mission is due to leave their present location in October of 2009, while Gales School might not be ready for occupancy until some time in 2011. That leaves us with 2 years during which there would be no Central Union Mission.

The Councilmembers Jim Graham and Carol Schwartz have mentioned the possibilities of expediting the renovation of Gales School and/or postponing their departure from their present location. Neither is as easy as I make it sound. I would like to mention the possibility of keeping Franklin School Shelter open (as it is due to be closed by October 1st, ' 08) and putting the C.U.M. residents on the 3rd floor, which is presently unused.

CORRECTION: The central Union Mission holds 128 men, not 170. (This doesn't change the figures that are given in my testimony or that of a friend all that much.)

NOTE: Someone else that I know liked this friend's testimony so much that he asked me to put them in touch with each other. I think you'll like it too.

A friend and fellow advocate named Oscar wrote the following testimony and presented it to several councilmembers on July 10th, as we sat side-by-side. He kept me in stitches throughout his testimony. Read and enjoy.....

7/10/08
JOINT PUBLIC ROUNDTABLE, COMMITTEE ON ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT, Kwame R. Brown, Chairperson and COMMITTEE ON WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT AND GOVERNMENT OPERATIONS, Carol Schwartz, Chairperson

I'd like to begin by giving a bit of background on the circumstances that brought us here today.

The Gales School Shelter, a publicly run shelter, was closed in 2004 for renovations. When open, it was able to provide shelter for approximately 170 people; 97 men and 81 women. This government said that it intended to renovate and reopen the shelter.

Central Union Mission, a privately owned (and operated) shelter, had previously announced plans to move from their current location in Ward 2, to a site on Georgia Avenue, in Ward 1, that would allow them to expand their capacity to 170 people. However, due to a seemingly small, but vocal group of NIMBY residents, the Mission was forced to delay plans to open their new facilities on Georgia Avenue. Councilmember Jim Graham also opposed the Mission's move to Georgia Avenue. Simultaneously, Mayor Adrian Fenty, as you know, has also announced plans to close the Franklin School Shelter, with a capacity of 300 men, on October 1st of this year.

Councilmen Graham & Evans, as you also know, had introduced (as emergency legislation with no public notice nor input required), but withdrew, legislation that would dispose of the Gales School.

Now, in a deft move to force the homeless community from downtown DC, and out of the wards whose residents they purport to represent, Councilmembers Graham and Evans have introduced legislation that would give the Gales School site to Central Union Mission in exchange for their parcels on Georgia Avenue and an agreement to operate the shelter, with a capacity of 150 men for not less than 40 years. The mayor's office has claimed that the city couldn't afford the estimated $9 million cost of renovating the Gales School.

This is problematic for several reasons.

(1) The net number of beds available for homeless individuals among the Franklin Shelter, Gales Shelter, and Central Union Mission, as of October is declining from a potential 640 (300-Franklin + 170 Central Union Mission + 170 Gales) to 150 (though Gales will likely be unready for occupancy until 2010).

The Mayor has also juxtaposed his announcement about the closure of the Franklin Shelter this October with his announcement of the creation of 400 units of "Permanent Supportive Housing". One major problem, however, is that these units, if they do materialize, won't be ready for occupancy until 2010 or 2012 (Franklin is scheduled to close THIS October). Further, it's not as if men currently residing at Franklin will be given priority for these units, and the need for permanent supportive housing far exceeds 400 people in the District, anyway.

(2) The Mayor's office claims that the city can't afford to pay the estimated $9 million to renovate the building, yet we have $800 million for a baseball stadium, and countless other corporate subsidies, and the city is GIVING Central Union Mission $7 million to renovate the very same building. Further, the land we would be receiving from Central Union Mission is valued at $2.68 million, while the Gales School, which Central Union Mission would be receiving, is valued at nearly $9 million.

(3) While faith-based shelters are wonderful for those who share the faith of those providing the shelter, it does not seem inclusive to replace non-denominational shelters with faith-based ones.

(4) Our public property, according to District law, is not supposed to be disposed
of unless it "has no further public purpose". Yet, in his analysis sent to this Council to justify why Gales should be disposed of, the Mayor's office acknowledges that there is a public purpose; that is serving the homeless community; yet he still recommends disposing of the building.

Why, if the Council can afford to pay Central Union Mission to renovate the Gales School, does the city not renovate our building itself?

Why doesn't Mayor Adrian Fenty want the city to provide services directly for its homeless residents?

Why is the city providing fewer shelter beds when the number of homeless individuals is increasing?

Why are Councilmember Graham and Evans trying to push homeless services out of Wards 1 and 2?

Why would anyone vote for Jack Evans, given his continued disregard for the well being of the District's residents, particularly low-income people, and his habit of trying to pull off shameful deals behind close doors to benefit developers at our expense?

I can only hope that the rest of you recognize that Mr. Evans is on his way out and do not pick up his bad habits, lest you follow him out as well. I needn't remind you all of a similar maneuver that Mr. Evans tried to execute almost exactly one year ago today, that time to give his wealthy developer pal, the “King of Georgetown”, Anthony Lanier, and Eastbanc a library, a fire station, and a police station. That, too, was an “emergency”. Giving away our public property to wealthy developers to build luxury condominiums without even the facade of public input is indeed an emergency, and one that must stop.

We, the public, must not be deprived of our rightful chance to give input, and to determine the fate and use of our collective public property, to satisfy Mr. Evans' desire to drive the homeless from Franklin (and out of DC altogether if he could have his way) to please the downtown BID. Shameful, deceitful, and dishonest are the only words that I can think of to describe what Mr. Evans has done, and continues to try to do. That is, to make deals behind closed doors to give away our community-serving public property, to benefit wealthy developers at our expense, and to do so at the midnight hour and hope he doesn't get caught. Then, when he's caught red-handed, he backtracks and tries to play dumb. Well, I for one, don't buy it, and you shouldn't either.

Please, do the right thing and allow Central Union Mission to move to their new site on Georgia Avenue,, or to remain at their current site. Renovate, and reopen the Gales School as this government promised to do, and keep the Franklin School open as a shelter until it is no longer needed, which it clearly is now. Pass comprehensive, true reform of Title X this council period to fix the city's badly broken laws about public property, so that these back door deals will stop, and our public property can finally begin to serve our many community needs that continue to go unmet.

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