Downtown Homeless Shelter Struggle Continues: Franklin Shelter Hearing Friday, January 30th at 9:00am in DC Superior Court

For more information:
Pete Tucker 202-365-6118
Jane Zara 202-390-2449

Former inhabitants of Franklin Shelter have sued Mayor Adrian Fenty over the abrupt closing of the only city downtown shelter this past fall. They will have a hearing on Friday, January 30th at 9:00 am in DC Superior Court, Room 517, 500 Indiana Ave., NW. www.franklinshelter.org

Plaintiffs are trying to get the city to provide shelter for those in need in the downtown DC area. Since Franklin Shelter was closed, former inhabitants of Franklin Shelter have been sent to the poorest parts of the city, lacking access to much needed medical and mental health services, with few, if any job opportunities. In addition to the loss of mental health and healthcare services, and loss of access to food and day labor opportunities, some former Franklin Shelter inhabitants also lost their possessions when the shelter was abruptly closed at 7:00am on September 26, 2008.

The closing of Franklin Shelter has forced homeless who remain downtown to sleep in the streets this winter. Mayor Fenty has used the newly implemented Permanent Supportive Housing Program as an excuse to close the shelter, but hundreds of people seeking shelter have applied for this program with little hope of ever being admitted, and the District Council slashed $5.6 million in funding for the program shortly after the shelter was closed.

Prior to the closing of Franklin Shelter, the Urban Institute reported routine over-capacity for the other existing shelters in DC. The Permanent Supportive Housing Program has only housed approximately 300 persons so far. In contrast to this small number, 13,000 single adults and 2,800 adults and children use emergency shelter in DC every year, according to a 2008 study by the Urban Institute on Public Homelessness. And 2,200 single adults were chronically homeless on a single night in January of 2008. Many of the homeless suffer from mental illness and are not being treated.

Many homeless advocates have been working to improve conditions at other shelters in the city since Franklin’s closing. They have described the situation in other shelters as uninhabitable. According to homeless advocates Kim Johnson and Pete Tucker, who have been organizing a series of meetings with the homeless about their current living situations, "The situation in other shelters is becoming worse. The New York Avenue Shelter, for instance, is a human rights violation." The closing of Franklin Shelter has caused overcrowding conditions and long lines for the other remaining shelters in DC, according to shelter inhabitants and their advocates. “Instead of working to improve the shelters, they allow them to be degraded, and then move to close them, as was the case with Franklin. At a time when the economy is tanking and homelessness is on the rise, we need to be improving our shelters, not allowing them to be further degraded, and then closed. Franklin Shelter needs to be reopened, and the other shelters need serious attention so that gross human rights abuses do not continue to be the norm" says Pete Tucker.

The Mayor has not revealed how many people have so far remained in the Supportive Housing Program, nor what, if any, accompanying services have been made accessible to participants. “While the Mayor has revealed a vulnerability index as criteria for placement in the Permanent Supportive Housing Program, there is little evidence that he has been adhered to vulnerability as a criteria for who receives housing. Former inhabitants of Franklin Shelter that appear to have severe mental illnesses remain on the streets of downtown DC without access to mental health or other badly needed facilities” says Eric Sheptock, a former Franklin Shelter inhabitant and homeless advocate.

Most Supportive Housing placements have been in the poorest sections of the city, in drug and crime-ridden neighborhoods. One participant in the fledgling Supportive Housing Program, Tommy Overton, was brutally beaten in front of his apartment this past fall after being placed in a Supportive Housing apartment in Ward 8.

It remains unclear why Franklin Shelter was closed so abruptly just prior to hypothermia season, and without any replacement shelters in the downtown area. Over $2 million dollars were spent to install new heating and cooling systems and new water heating systems just prior to its closing. Franklin Shelter is in Ward 2, where several brutal beatings of homeless persons have occurred after the closing of Franklin Shelter. Yohio Nakada, a homeless man, was found beaten to death on Christmas Eve in Ward 2 also. The Mayor and the Council remain silent about these atrocities. “Their silence sends a signal to many in the city that Mayor Fenty and the DC Council care more about how much money they can get from developers (for their campaign funds), rather than addressing the basic human needs of the people of DC” remarks Eric Sheptock.

Please join the Franklin Shelter Plaintiffs in their efforts this Friday, in front of DC Superior Courthouse. Breakfast will be served at 8:30am , prior to the hearing.

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