Our Last-ditch EffortsTo Save Franklin School Shelter

NOTE: I added more details and a couple of new items to this blog on 9/14, several days after posting it. If you think that you're seeing a new detail, you are and you're not crazy. Just thought you'd want to know.

First of all, I apologize for not posting more often, as I realize that many people want to keep up with the Franklin School Shelter situation as it unfolds. However, things have been quite hectic lately. Those of us who are working to keep Franklin School open as a shelter are putting in long hours (pro bono, of course) and I've been short on time.

While much has been going on since my last post, things have been especially hectic for the last couple of days. Check-in for the night usually goes from 4:30 to 5:30 PM. However, as I arrived at Franklin around 7 PM on September 10th, having gotten a bed reservation, I saw that people were still being checked-in. It would eventually go until 9:30 that night. The reason for the long check-in was that residents were being given exit interviews. The staff was asking questions, filling out the paperwork and having the clients to sign it.

There were not any statements on the form obligating anyone to do anything. Besides personal information such as name, date of birth, social security number etc., the questions were as follows:

Do you know that Franklin Shelter is closing on October 1st?
Do you know where you'll go?
Do you need assistance relocating? and
Exactly what type of assistance do you need?

Patricia "Pat" Handy, the outreach coordinator for DHS (the Dept. of Human Services)was present, as were many homeless advocates and community activists. Though I asked Pat Handy a number of questions, she was rather tight-lipped about everything. As she put it, she does what her bosses tell her to do.

On the following morning, 9/11, I noticed dozens of people sitting in the dining area of Franklin. At a glance, I figured at least a dozen of them to be DHS employees. I proceeded to enter the room, but was quickly escorted out by Catholic Charities employee Harry Martinez. I left and returned an hour later to find Pat Handy getting out of a UPO (United Planning Org.)van, the vans used to transport the homeless during hypothermia. As we spoke, she informed me that she had not been to bed since the previous day. She entered the building and I went to get breakfast. Later that evening I would learn that many of the people whom I'd seen were homeless people from other shelters who'd been brought to Franklin early that morning. They were signed up for housing and given keys, as were some Franklin residents. Rumor has it that the number of non-residents who were brought to Franklin Shelter that morning was eventually added to the number of actual residents who were housed, so as to make it look as if they ALL had come from Franklin. If this proves to be true, it is essentially dishonest.

I returned to Franklin shortly after 5 PM on 9/11. Once again there was a crowd of people in and around Franklin. Various DHS employees including Fred Swan and Pat Handy were there. Linda Kaufman of Pathways To Housing, an organization that specializes in housing the mentally ill, was there also. My fellow homeless advocates and community activists were outside with a reporter from the Washington Post. After greeting people, I proceeded to do an interview. His is at least the sixth article that has been done about the homeless of DC and the Franklin School Shelter by the Post in the past three months.

At about 6 PM, Councilwoman Yvette Alexander arrived with one of her staffers and with Drew Hubbard who works for Councilman Marion Barry. She was upset about the impending closure and how it is being executed. Even as she was inundated with comments and concerns, she proceeded to state some concerns of her own. Ms. Alexander struck me as being quite well informed on the issue of homelessness.

Councilwoman Alexander was upset that proper protocol requiring that the Council be notified at least 30 days in advance of a shelter closing was not followed. She made it clear that she also spoke for Marion Barry, the Ward 8 councilman, who was out of the country at the time. He'd been informed and had expressed his displeasure to his colleague. (Their wards are often conjunctively referred to as Ward 15 due to the fact that the 2 wards -- 7 and 8 -- share some of the same demographics including high poverty and illiteracy rates. They also work together on those issues.)

The councilwoman was also concerned that the social services that these men receive might be inadequate and that severely mentally ill and incompetent people might be left to fend for themselves in an apartment all by themselves. But the concern that stood out to me as the one that would create the most concern for DC residents was the fact that Franklin residents who've been waiting for a matter of months would be housed before people that have been waiting for housing through the DC Housing Authority for as many as 10 years. This is all because the mayor wants to give this building to some developer that he has waiting in the wings and to make a profit off of it. She was appalled by this. She was also concerned that a disproportionate number of the men were being moved into her ward. Ms. Alexander also stated her concerns to the Post reporter.

She wanted to take a tour of the building but was confronted by shelter staff/Catholic Charities employee Garland Caraway. They had words as she asserted her right as a councilmember to enter a government-owned building. In the end, he got his way. I WAS able to show her the brand new heating/air unit and the dining area. Then she was called into the office by Pat Handy who gave her a 30 minute diatribe about God-knows-what. I waited in the hall. When Ms. Alexander emerged from the office, she decided against the tour and just went home. She was visibly upset.

The Committee 2 Save Franklin (CSFS) met in the park with several supporters immediately thereafter and had a planning meeting. (They actually began while I tried to give the councilwoman a tour of the facility.) We made plans for the next several days which are below. However, one of our plans has been carried out at this point -- the plan to heckle Mayor Fenty during the dedication of the new Safeway grocery store at 5th and L streets, NW.

About a half dozen hecklers had arrived at the store by 12:15 PM on the 12th. The mayor arrived at 12:15 himself. We began to heckle him, but were quickly stopped by his security detail. So, we waited around and waylaid him afterward. We told him about how foolish it is to close a homeless shelter right before hypothermia. I mentioned his broken promises and apparent dishonesty to him. The mayor explained his desire to move away from large shelters. I, therefore, asked why he didn't close one of the larger shelters like CCNV, New York Ave or MLK first. He didn't answer me but continued to speak to one of my colleagues.

Having fought for Franklin since June of 2006 and being fed up with his dishonesty and dirty politics as well as his unwillingness to have a truly productive conversation, I began to curse the mayor out, in much the same way I was told that he cursed out Council Chairman Vincent Gray and Councilman Marion Barry. I also shot a whole flock of birds at him as I said,"Fuck you!!!!! Fuck the mayor!!!!! Fuck you and the horse you rode in on!!!!!" . The officer that was with him told me that I could be arrested if I were to continue, which I knew was a lie. I told him that I had not threatened the mayor and he couldn't arrest me.

The mayor called me over and began to give me a diatribe on respect. I asked him the rhetorical question:"Which is worse, cursing or lying?" He told me that I could say what I want about him so long as I don't curse him, asked me to agree to respect him and put his hand out so as to shake on it. I told him that, if he agreed to stop lying, then I would agree to stop cursing. With that we parted. I'm glad that I had the opportunity to confront him face-to-face about his dishonesty, broken campaign promises and all-around dirty politics. The fight goes on.....

If you e-mail me at ericsheptock@yahoo.com, I can send you the letter that Chairman Vincent Gray sent to Mayor Fenty concerning his broken campaign promises and the lack of wisdom in closing Franklin School Shelter.

NOTE: They've stopped giving out soap at Franklin. A few of us have our own. You might want to give the men some soap.


Actions:
On Sunday, there will be a rally to save Franklin Shelter which will be held in Franklin Park at 13th and K streets, NW at 2 PM.

On Tuesday, Sept. 16th, the Council reconvenes for its first legislative session since returning from recess. It will begin at 9 AM in the John A. Wilson Bldg. at 1350 Pennsylvania ave. This is what al of our efforts were for. The Council will vote on a bill that would keep Franklin open, in spite of the will of the mayor and be veto-proof.

BE THERE!!!!!

In the meantime, call, e-mail, visit and fax the mayor. Inundate him with your concerns.

Fax black paper to him.

Publicize his broken promises.

Don't forget to read the mayor's e-mail to me in the previous post.

Join the fight in any which way you can.

Thanx.

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