The council came through. Franklin Is saved (For Now).

On september 16th, the DC Council held its first legislative session in 2 months, having just returned from recess. I was quite pleased to see the interest that they have taken in the issue of homelessness. ((They postponed the beginning of their recess in July by 2 days in order to create emergency legislation around the transfer of the Gales School Bldg. to the Central Union Mission (C.U.M.).)) Then, as they returned, one of the items on their legslative agenda was the impending closure of the Franklin School Shelter. And so their recess began and ended with the creation of emergency legislation for 2 homeless shelters.

The day began with a large rally that was orchestrated by Empower DC, a non-profit that does grassroots organizing around the issues that affect everyday people. It highlighted issues related to homelessness, affordable housing, using public land for community needs rather than giving it to private developers who can make a profit off of it and labor unions. There were at least 200 people at the rally, which was held in front of the John A. Wilson Bldg. (City Hall).

Many of my friends and supporters of the homeless community demonstrated inside of the Council Chambers (which is not allowed) and got thrown out. Bless their souls. A reporter from the Washington Examiner newspaper asked me why only those who were not homeless were acting up and not the homeless themselves, being that the demonstration was for the homeless. I explained to him that I was reporting for Street Sense, a street newspaper about the poor and homeless of DC and couldn't afford to be thrown out. I failed to explain what is, no doubt, an even more important reason: I, being one of the primary homeless advocates fighting to keep Franklin open as a shelter, needed to be there as the Council decided on the issue. It wouldn't have looked right for me to be absent. As it turned out, many of them looked my way as they discussed the issue of Franklin.

The Council was quite well-informed on the issue of homelessness. They seemed to understand that anyone can become homeless. Councilman Harry Thomas, Jr. told of an ANC commissioner who became homeless, along with his family. Councilpersons Carol Schwartz and Phil Mendelson realize that the homeless choose to be located Downtown. I even sensed a slight implication by them that it would be better to close the 801 East (MLK, Jr.) Shelter first, especially since the mayor claims to want to move away from large shelters and 801 east is larger than Franklin while also being in a location that is unpopular to the homeless.

Chairman Vincent Gray pointed out that he had sent a letter to the mayor 34 days prior to the session and that the mayor had not responded to that letter, which explained that the mayor had broken campaign promises and that it was unwise to close Franklin Shelter given the circumstances. (The article in the Washington Post on the following day pointed out that the mayor failed to respond to the Council actions with a press conference, which he normally does after a legislative session. The mayor is becoming even more secretive than usual as he deals with this possible shelter closure.)

The council voted 12 to 1 to keep Franklin open until the mayor meets a long list of demands. Among those demands are the following. He must:

1 -- house at least 300 men in Permanent supportive Housing
2 -- show that they are stable and will not lose their housing
3 -- show that they are receiving adequate social services related to their physical and mental health as well as drug treatment and employment services
4 -- provide paperwork that gives the names of all of those who've been housed and the locations of their housing
5 -- provide a report that shows the varying levels of shelter usage during different times of the year, the number of homeless people in the city and the current shelter capacity
6 -- submit in writing an updated report containing all of the above information and a renewed request for closure before closing the shelter.

The only abstention was by Phil Mendelson, but for a good reason that I fully agree with. We needed 9 votes to make the legislation veto-proof. We also needed this legislation passed immediately. Both needs were met, in spite of the lone abstention. I'm inclined to believe that it was planned that way. Great.

Mr. Mendelson voted against the bill due to the fact that he wanted stronger legislation that takes some power from the mayor and gives the Council and the ICH (Inter-agency Council on Homelessness) more oversight of the homeless shelters. He feels that the mayor is a dictator of sorts who rules by fiat (mandate). I agree. I also agree with him that we should get more out of this deal than to just keep a homeless shelter from closing. We should also address the extensive powers of the mayor that essentially make him a brat. Mr. Mendelson and Carol Schwartz emphasized that the Council is a branch of government that is separate from but equal to the mayor's administration. The Council asserted its power. Great. In essence, the entire Council was on our side. The single abstention openned the door for the Council to begin an agenda of Government reform. Way to go!!!!!

The council acted in unity as they made a concerted effort to put the brakes on the mayor. What was more surprising than the 12 to 1 victory was the fact that the entire Council chose to break ranks with the mayor. Many of those whom I spoke to never expected Muriel Bowser to break ranks with Mayor Fenty. She got in on a special election, due to her friendship with him. However, she doesn't owe him anything. She made that point on Tuesday. Good job.

As it turns out, the mayor has 10 days to veto the legislation. He won't win if he does use his veto power. Unfortunately, he can still have beds dismantled during that time. When the Council overrides his veto on the 26th, he'll have to have the beds that were disassembled reassembled. Sending the legislation to him is just a formality.


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