Is there Life After Franklin?

Franklin Shelter's doors were closed by Mayor adrian fenty on September 26th, 2008. The former residents were scattered throughout DC. Many have suffered great losses and inconveniences as a result of the closure. A few have even put up a fight so as to try to be compensated for their losses and to re-open Franklin Shelter. All of this begs the question,"What now, is there life after Franklin?"

I must say that there is indeed life after Franklin and there's probably more life than the mayor thought there would be. Let's bear in mind that the homeless often feel disenfranchised and marginalized. They, for the most part, don't stand up for themselves. When mis-treated, they often take it lying down. I'm inclined to believe that the mayor thought that would continue to be the case. Boy was he wrong!!!!!

Prior to the closing of Franklin Shelter, it was difficult to get even 5 homeless people to go to a meeting or hearing that was arranged for them. When asked to attend the meeting and voice their concerns, they'd often say of their local government,"They aren't going to do anything for us anyway", or, "They work for the business men and those with money, not for us". I as an individual have long maintained that knowing that your government doesn't have your best interest at heart is no reason to avoid speaking to them. It's all the more reason to get pissed and confront these people whose salaries you pay with your taxes. That spirit seems to be catching on like wildfire.

Recently I've seen the homeless attending various meetings and hearings by the dozens. To be sure, this is in part due to the recent crisis created by budget cuts to needed social programs and in part due to the aggressive outreach being done by members of Empower DC, a grassroots organizer/non-profit. DC Government has recently slashed, frozen or threatened the budgets of several programs that house the homeless, assist with rent payments or even help people to purchase houses. Furthermore, they are privatizing the mental health department, which might prove to be a good thing in some respects. Even so, the changes are occurring so quickly that progress is often difficult to track and the success of a program may be impossible to evaluate. (The refusal by the mayor to disclose information to the Council doesn't make it any easier to evaluate a new or recently altered program.)

Mayor fenty created the Permanent Supportive Housing program and used its creation to justify closing Franklin Shelter. Six weeks after the closure we received word that the Housing First program (Permanent Supportive Housing) may be in peril and that other programs were on the chopping block as well. The shelter is gone. The housing is going. I'd like to say that this amounts to a bait and switch, except that it was the mayor who created the PSH program and then closed Franklin Shelter and the Council who followed with the budget cuts. Make what you will of that one. Add to that the fact that winter is right around the corner and it is cold outside even now. The homeless are worried and rightly so. This is neoliberalism at its worst -- eliminating social programs when they're needed most. Making matters worse is the fact that seperate but equal branches of government are taking missteps which compliment each other so as to leave the needy high and dry.

It is important to note that the government will care for the homeless in one way or another -- either by sheltering them or by housing them. Even during an economic downturn they must do one or the other. They can't just hang people out to dry. Federal law won't allow it. This makes it senseless to slash the funding for social programs during hard times. they aren't eliminating costs, just shifting them.

Speaking of shifting, that is also what's being done to the homeless themselves. They've been shifted from the Franklin Shelter to other shelters. (Franklin had over 300 residents of which 87 were housed. The rest were moved to other shelters.) Many of them were moved to the 801 East Shelter on the other side of the Anacostia River (the equivalent of sending someone to the other side of the tracks in days of old). Being east of the river makes it difficult for these homeless men to get to the services that they use downtown. They feel their lives getting more difficult.

Sensing the urgency of the matters at hand, the homeless have begun to get involved in local politics and are working to solve their own problems. But they are not the only ones. Local non-profits and concerned citizens are also lending a hand. A certain lawyer is working pro bono to sue the mayor in court and make him re-open Franklin. Empower DC is using Franklin School as a model of how the government can gather community input on the proposed use of vacant public property. They are gathering ideas on the proposed usages of the now empty Franklin School. The Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless is vying for downtown shelter. Various homeless people are filing complaints about shelter conditions. The poor and homeless as well as those advocating for them are contesting the elimination of various social programs. Various newspapers, radio shows and the news are covering the issue of homelessness in general and the Franklin issue and elimination of the safety net in particular. In spite of the fact that Franklin has been closed, there is still much energy revolving around the issue. As a matter of fact, the energy is increasing. I think that the mayor bit off more than he can chew.

As if that's not enough, Barack Obama sent 2 men from his senatorial office to visit Franklin Shelter on October 25th, 2006. This was prior to beginning his presidential campaign. I'm inclined to believe that it was just an exploratory mission for the purpose of designing the platform on which he would run his campaign. Let's hope that he remembers the poor and homeless after taking office. Let's take steps to make sure that happens.

Keep hope alive!!!!!
(She's a really sweet and pretty girl.)


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