Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Our Meeting With Mayor Adrian Fenty

Mayor adrian Fenty avoided us like the plague for as long as he could. Those of us involved in the effort to save Franklin School Shelter thought we'd never get our chance to speak with the mayor about the issue. Then, about 2 dozen of us protested outside of his house on the evening of August 21st, 2008. He arrived a half hour or so after we did. He was visibly upset by our visit. However, he agreed to a meeting with a few of us.

On Monday, August 25th, 4 homeless men met with the mayor and his director of the Dept. Human Services, Clarence Carter. They were myself, Skip Hawkins, Orlando Smith and D'juan Bean. The mayor had 2 others with him who were obviously not highly influential people. They both sat against the wall, while the 6 of us sat at the board room table.

I had been informed prior to the meeting that the mayor might play with his cell phone or blackberry as a show of disinterest in the meeting. He actually didn't do that. We kept him engaged throughout the 40 minute meeting. Nonetheless, while the meeting had respectful overtones, what the mayor had to say was quite unpleasant.

We reminded him of his campaign promise to keep Franklin open as a shelter and the fact that over 80 homeless people attended a meeting that was put together by his transition team. That was a feat getting that many homeless people to attend a meeting. They had a lot of faith in Mayor-elect Fenty. I told him that many people are upset with him, due to his broken campaign promises. all he could say was,"Well..........".

We explained that the homeless feel a need to remain in the downtown area and near public transportation. We explained that, since his housing plan is behind schedule, he should also postpone the shelter closure. Mayor Fenty explained that the closure of Franklin School was supposed to happen last year. He maintains that, if we keep putting it off, the shelter closure will never happen. However, he doesn't mind putting off his housing plan that he publicized in April of this year and juxtaposed with the shelter closure. In essence, he juxtaposed them in order to get the go-ahead and then separated them. That amounts to a bait and switch. When the homeless shelter is closed, many homeless men will have nowhere to go.

We also mentioned the fact that, by them having nowhere to go, many of the homeless will end up sleeping in the park and then going to jail for it. We reminded him of how neither he nor DC government wanted the jail to serve as a makeshift homeless shelter. Mayor Fenty's response was,"The city has to do what the city has to do". Take that for what you will.

A highlight of the meeting was the fact that we didn't give Clarence much of an opportunity to speak in his round-about way. he said very little, as we interrupted him several times.

We also mentioned the idea of creating employment opportunities and drug programs at Franklin, possibly only on a temporary basis. Mayor Fenty seemed rather open to the idea of finding employment for the several of us who were at the meeting. We were careful not to allow ourselves to be co-opted.

I mentioned the fact that the National Park Service wants to upgrade Franklin and McPherson Parks, having already gotten the fountain working in Franklin Park, and they don't want a homeless shelter right across the road from a tourist attraction. The mayor said rather sarcastically,"The National Park Service can't upgrade anything. They can't upgrade a single water fountain". I wasn't looking for an honest admission, just to let him know that I know -- to scare him with my ability to find out the truth.

In spite of his failure to admit to the truth, I continued with that train of thought by explaining that homeless people will quite readily walk up to 2 miles. Many Franklin residents eat at S.O.M.E. (So Others Might Eat) which is at 71 O Street, NW. Many CCNV residents walk to McPherson Park to eat. In either case,it is about 2 miles. Therefore, moving the shelter won't keep the homeless out of the park.

These are just a few of the things that were said in the meeting. However, they should give you a window into the mind of the mayor. He is being quite unreasonable. He was rather nonchalant about his broken promises and the fact that many of his constituents are highly upset with his performance. He's dug his heels in and refuses to budge, in spite of what advice he receives. In the words of Dr. Frankenstein,"we've created a monster". He'll be a one-time mayor.

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Carol Schwartz and Michael Brown at Father McKenna Center

Councilwoman Carol Schwartz and Candidate Michael Brown spoke to a room of approximately 100 homeless men and 1 homeless woman this morning at the Father McKenna Center which feeds homeless men out of the basement of St. Aloysius church on North Capitol. This speaks volumes to the fact that DC homeless are being recognized and respected by their local government these days. After all, we work, pay taxes and vote too.

Ms. Schwartz emphasized the fact that she wants to keep Franklin School open as a shelter, at least until better living arrangements are available to the residents. She also took some time to explain the complicated, if not crazy, way in which committees have been assigned to the various council members. For example, Carol Schwartz's Committee on Government Operations oversees the surplussing of public property. However, Councilman Kwame Brown's Committee on Economic Development oversees the disposition of public property. Therefore, you end up getting sent from pillar to post as you try to deal with the immoral closing of a public building which is predicated on greed and ignorance. (The above are my words and not hers.)Carol Schwartz has always struck me as witty and dedicated to her job, even if I haven't agreed with everything that she has said or done. She DOES know the system, for which reason, she is a good person to get on your side.

Schwartz also promised to urge the mayor to keep Franklin open for now. She said that she would do all that she could. (However, the mayor can close Franklin without council approval.)

Michael Brown did his best to convince us that he has a heart for the homeless and others who are under-priviledged. He stated his position that there should be homeless services in every ward of the city. He doesn't believe that they should be gentrified. He has said that all wards should share the burden of homelessness. Mr. Brown also supports workforce development and the idea of offering DC jobs to DC residents. He hasn't had a chance to prove himself yet. All I can really say about him is wait and see, first if he wins and then what he does while in office.

Many people choose to ridicule politicians AFTER they have done poorly. I prefer to stay on their case BEFORE they do poorly, so as not to give them that opportunity. Let's give them the run for their money. We pay the politicians with our tax dollars. Let's get our money's worth out of them. Let's shift our focus from finding out THEIR positions on various issues to giving them OUR positions. Let's be proactive.

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Friday, August 1, 2008

Saving Franklin (Until approx. October 1st)

I was just about to post information about recent developments at Franklin School Shelter when I ran across the messages of a friend from the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless. These 2 messages explain that many of the men were told that they couldn’t return to the shelter tonight and that the decision was later reversed in the nick of time.
WLCH took affidavits that were filled out by 2 dozen homeless men and filed them with the court. The court issued a temporary restraining order reversing the phasing-out process that would’ve left dozens (not all of them having filled out affidavits) with nowhere to go. This would've been grossly irresponsible and inhumane on the part of DC Government in general and DHS in particular. It would also be reason to alert the public via the mass media. It is a good thing that it was stopped. The men are safe until about the 1st of October.
I have an idea. Let's involve the homeless themselves as we seek to end homelessness. Let's have DC Government to end homelessness in the District WITH the homeless, not FOR the homeless.
The first step toward ending homelessness is homeless empowerment. Don't just do things FOR them. Show them what THEY can do.

Message 1 (The BAD News):

Friends and Allies:

We need your help to keep homeless men from being turned out to the street with no place to go, beginning this Friday, August 1st.

Back in April, when Mayor Fenty announced his permanent supportive housing (PSH) initiative, he announced his intention to close the Franklin Shelter by October 1st. He explained that residents of the shelter would be moved into housing, rather than being forced to stay in a shelter with deteriorating conditions.

For over five years, the Franklin Shelter, located at 13th and K Streets, NW, has provided life-saving shelter to countless men, many of whom never previously came in from the streets and parks. According to DHS, in the past 90 days, 1000 different individuals were sheltered there. Franklin has a nightly capacity of 300. Conditions are not terrific, but they have improved over the past year; the fact that the shelter is at or near capacity nearly every night speaks volumes to how valuable the residents feel the shelter is to them.

With no public hearing or opportunity to comment on the plan and two months before the Mayor's deadline, the Administration has begun to take steps toward the closure. The Department of Human Services (DHS) has crafted a list of 320 men who, based on how long they've stayed at the shelter, will be permitted to stay at Franklin between August 1st and October 1st. Regardless of how many open beds there are, no one else will be admitted! Dozens of men will be turned away when they arrive for intake this Friday afternoon and every afternoon for the next two months. We have been asked for assistance by a number of these men.

Not one person has yet been housed through the Mayor's new PSH initiative. There is inadequate capacity in the remainder of the shelter system to serve those who will be turned away from Franklin . The men who are not on the list of 320 will have no place to go. In March of 2005, Adrian Fenty told the Washington Post: “We want to make sure that there’s a plan, so that next time, before anybody ever announces that Franklin is going to close, that there is a plan for where people are going to go.” Please join us in calling on the Mayor to suspend the closure actions until permanent supportive housing is available for those who need it and an adequate alternative downtown shelter site is in place so that people have a safe space to sleep until they can access affordable housing.

Please e-mail the mayor at mayor@dc.gov and copy the city administrator at dan.tangherlini@dc.gov, the director of Human Services at clarence.carter@dc.gov, and the City Council at membersonly@dccouncil.us They need to hear this simple message from the community:
Dear Mayor Fenty: I live [or work] in the District of Columbia . I am concerned about our neighbors who are homeless and I believe in a just and inclusive community. I oppose your efforts to close the Franklin Shelter before an adequate alternative downtown shelter site is in place for men experiencing homelessness. I ask you immediately to direct that current efforts to downsize Franklin Shelter be halted.
You can also sign an online petition: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/franklin

Thanks very much for your support. If you'd like more information, please feel free to contact the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless at (202) 328-5500.

Patty
(contact info below)

Message 2 (The GOOD News):

Friends:
We heard from our clients and the Department of Human Services this morning that the men will be allowed to come back to Franklin Shelter tonight on a “first come first serve” basis. We appreciate everything you may have done to push for this reprieve. You may want to thank Mayor Fenty for this decision.

Unfortunately, this week’s scare may just be the beginning. As far as we know, the plan is still to close Franklin Shelter by October 1st. Please continue to let the Mayor know that you oppose his efforts to close the Franklin Shelter before an adequate alternative downtown shelter site is in place for men experiencing homelessness. (You can e-mail the Mayor at mayor@dc.gov and copy the city administrator at dan.tangherlini@dc.gov, the director of Human Services at clarence.carter@dc.gov, and the City Council at membersonly@dccouncil.us.)

We may need to remind the Mayor of his words at the 8/22/2007 Capstat session on "Ending Homelessness”: "It [ Franklin ] will have to close eventually but we can't close it until we get an alternate site downtown."

You can also continue to sign the online petition: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/franklin

We’ll continue to update you as we learn more from our clients. Thanks again.

Best-
patty

Patricia Mullahy Fugere, Esq.
Executive Director
Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless
True Reformer Building
1200 U Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 328-5504
(202) 328-5515 (fax)
www.legalclinic.org
patty@legalclinic.org
If you see someone on the streets who is in need of shelter or other assistance, please call the shelter hotline at 1-800-535-7252. It might save a life. Thanks!
CFC # 82572 United Way # 8472

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