Is Mayor Fenty (and/or Catholic Charities) Closing ALL of DC's Homeless Shelters?????

I first posted this article on March 19th, 2009.

New information came out in the headlines this morning stating that Catholic charities might stop doing business with the city of Washington, DC if the gay marriage bill is passed.

This would lead to the loss of about 2,000 shelter beds in shelters that are run by Catholic Charities.

The homeless have become pawns and bargaining chips in the game of local (and "loco") politics.

As I type up my blog post pertaining to this latest development, you can read about why people thought that all DC homeless shelters were threatened in March. I believe that there may be a correlation between what happened in March and what is happening now. I'll explain in my next blog post later today. Read on.....

Several homeless people have told me that they read a newspaper article which stated that DC Mayor Adrian Fenty (a man) plans to close ALL DC homeless shelters by 2011. Unfortunately, I didn't read that article myself and haven't found it on the web. I know enough to take what I hear with a grain of salt. However, I'd be remiss if I failed to mention that at least one of the several people to tell me this is a man whom I know rather well and who is quite rational. All things considered, I've heard it one too many times to ignore it. So, while considering the veracity of this claim, let's also take a look at Fenty's track record on how he treats the homeless. I think that we'll find that whether or not this particular claim is true, the Fenty-phobia of the DC homeless community is well-founded. The homeless have good reason to fear and dislike the present mayor of our nation's capital.

The mayor received complaints about DC Village Family Shelter while he was still the Ward 4 councilman and chairperson of the Committee on Human Services (the latter position now being held by Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells). So, Fenty decided to close DC Village. It was closed in October of 2007. DC Government received work orders for maintenance at Franklin School Shelter, some of them having been sent by me. (There are some people in DC Government who misrepresent me as having opted for the closure due to me having sent these work orders. Don't believe that lie.) These work orders were used as reasons to close Franklin School Shelter on September 26th, 2008. Is it any wonder that people are afraid to place work orders or complain about anything that might be wrong at a shelter? Closing a shelter due to it needing maintenance is like decapitating oneself due to their hair being disheveled.

While there are those in the homeless advocacy community who feel that the mayor had good reason to close both shelters, both the homeless and their advocates agree that any shelter closure should be accompanied by a suitable replacement whether it is another shelter of equal or greater size or housing. As it turns out, the Fenty administration has gone from housing about 135 people per month for the 3 months following the Franklin closure to housing less than 10 people per month since December. Fenty is not so gung-ho about housing the homeless now that he has gotten many of them out of downtown. Furthermore, with the economic downturn, various housing programs have been partially defunded. While the number of those housed due to the Franklin closure exceeds the 300 men that Franklin held, there is good reason to believe that DC Government's efforts to house the homeless, as noble as it is, can't keep pace with the shelter closures that are on the horizon. And let's not forget that Adrian Fenty still hasn't created the 150-bed men's shelter in the downtown area like he promised he would do BEFORE Frnaklin School Shelter was to close.

The Harriet Tubman Women's Shelter, located on the grounds of DC General Hospital, was recently moved from Building C to the newly renovated Building 9, which had been a men's hypothermia shelter. (I don't believe that a replacement location was created for that men's shelter.) Now that the women's shelter has moved to Bldg. 9, it might be shut down entirely as DC General falls prey to the proposed Hill East Development. The 801 East Shelter (aka MLK Shelter), located on the grounds of St. Elizabeth's Hospital, might have to close its doors soon due to Homeland Security building offices on the hospital grounds. (Even though they might not even use the plot of ground on which the shelter is located, it is strongly believed that the Dept. of Homeland Security doesn't want a homeless shelter located in proximity to its offices.)

Then there is the Central Union Mission which is located at 14th and R streets, NW. It is due to leave its present location by October of this year. C.U.M. got N.I.M.B.Y.'ed out of its own property on Georgia Ave. and did a land swap with the city for the Gales School, located at 65 Mass. Ave, NW. The Gales School is under renovation and might not be completed until some time in 2011. This means that the homeless shelter itself will be homeless for 2 years. The Fenty-phobians fear that Mayor Fenty might decide that, if we can go 2 years without the mission, then we don't need it ever again. He might in turn decide not to move it to the Gales School after all.

Now rumor has it that Fenty might try to close the CCNV shelter. I haven't received any official word on this matter. Nonetheless, various residents have told me that they've seen ominous characters snooping around the shelter and taking notes. (My guess is that some of them are donors.) While various efforts have been made over the years to close the CCNV shelter, Fenty's success at closing other shelters has the homeless community on edge. Add to this the fact that Franklin School is only worth $12 million while the building which houses CCNV and 4 other homeless entities is worth over $100 million. This makes CCNV a much more lucrative buy for a greedy developer. That's not to speak of the fact that CCNV is located near Capital Hill or the fact that it is very close to the Gales School and to the Gospel Rescue Mission, thus creating a high density of homeless shelters near the Capitol.

Now it is easy to see why the homeless believe that the mayor wants to close ALL homeless shelters. I might look for that article on-line again. But, whether or not I find it, the proof of the pudding is in the tasting. Even though much of what is stated herein remains unsubstantiated, it is still cause for concern. It also puts DC Government in general and Mayor Fenty in particular on the defensive. It therefore behooves them to give the homeless community the answers we seek.

NOTE:A meeting to name me as the acting president of the Committee 2 Save Franklin Shelter (a slight misnomer at this point) and/or vote on one is in the making.

Also, the case SHEPTOCK et. al. vs. FENTY et. being moved to federal court.

Finally, I was quite impressed to find out that a certain young lady named Meghan who attends Georgetown U. has been following my blog for 2 months and has read ALL OF MY BLOG POSTS. Gotta love her. She's definitely interested in the issue of homelessness.


Deb said…
Eric...I stumbled upon your blog after reading a Washington Post article. I just wanted to drop in to commend you on your "Man on the Street" (no pun intended)reporting of the homeless situation in the District.

It really gives a true "walk in my shoes" perspective of an issue that is so very important in our supposed "civil society."

I have written about, as well as volunteered with, the homeless in what has been described as the wealthiest town per capita in the U.S. (How ironic is that??)

The situation there mirrors the District's, except the island is only 4 miles long by 2 miles wide and with much better weather (no hypothermia days to contend with).

Volunteering there with Catholic Charities, gave my husband, 2 sons and I the opportunity to never forget that, "There, but for the grace..."

You said, "Unfortunately, I didn't read that article myself and haven't found it on the web."

This July '08 piece in WaPo: described one part of the mayor's long-term plan to position "the District to become a leader in homeless service systems" this way:

The third pillar of the new system is restructuring emergency homeless shelters. As long-term users move to supportive housing, far fewer emergency beds will be needed. In several years, the District should be close to having a system half the present size, with savings poured into smaller shelters and more staff and services.

Maybe that's what they were talking about.

But according to what you've written here, it seems the mayor's proposed plans have not been too successful with regard to "moving long-term users to supportive housing" while it appears to be nearing success in cutting the present system in half. Am I correct in that assumption?

I've added you to my Blog List so I can follow your reporting. Keep up the good work!

And this must be your week for Georgetown students! Though we'd never discussed this before, I am a graduate student there as well and get this - Meghan is in one of my classes!!! I'll have to tell her you gave her a nod here on the post.
Matt said…

I was very surprised about the article in the WaPo's Express paper this morning on my commute to work.

I must admit the overwhelming amount of homelessness in DC is a huge cultural shock for me. I moved here from a very small town in Wisconsin not even a year ago. In Menomonie, if there were any homeless, we didn't see them (likely the constant freeze of long winters sould have driven them to whatever shelter there would be) and so I never experienced this issue.

Living in DC now, I am confronted by a dilemma that I can't seem to risolve. I don't make a ton of money myself, but I can afford housing and food, and occasionally other nice things...but I'm often asked for money from people on the streets. On the one hand, I was raised in a church enviornment and there's a sort of guilt-ridden sense of obligation to help anyone in need...but I don't have enough money to help everyone who asks for it (Carrying cash is just not a safe thing to do in this city, having already been attaked once since I moved here.) On the other hand, the cynic in me often comes out and asks "is this person really in need or are they just a junkie looking for drug money?" I would hate to know that if I was able to help someone with some money, that it went to drugs or alcohol; but I'd aslo hate to know that I could have helped get someone something to eat with a buck or two and didn't...I passed by 4 people yesterday that asked for money, I had none at the time, and the first 3 seemed to be illegitmate but the 4th, a woman near Farrugut West Metro tugged at my emotions a bit and it was hard to pass by her knowing I couldn't help her at that moment in time...I wish I had the income to help, but I know it's not all about money, so perhaps I can find other ways to do something...

I'd be interested to see what your thoughts are on that internal struggle of cynical vs. compassionate.

As for your latest entry, my church (Foundry UMC, Dupont Cir) has been working with other coalitions and I think they're making real progress (and will continue to do so) to introduce a significant increase in housing both temporary and longer-term.

I will continue to follow your blog to try and gain a more full perspective of what you all go through, perhaps it will help me learn a thing or two about life on the other side.

I'm glad to see that the homeless are finding ways to get their story out to us through technology, perhaps this will really help the cause!
Eric Sheptock said…
Deb and Matt,

I just read both of your comments.

Deb, you are right in assuming that the mayor's housing program has a few problems. I'll be sure to blog about them soon. I see Martha Burt on a semi-regular basis. I was at an ICH meeting when she discussed her report. It fails to take into account the fact that the number and that having a good system of helping the homeless brings more of them to town. The more transient homeless spread the word in other cities.

Matt, if a homeless person asks for money, offer to buy them food. If they prefer the money, they might be a drug user or drunkard. If they seem to be getting agitated, just walk away, lest you be attacked again. (Not all homeless people are like that. Don't adopt any stereotypes.) It also helps to be able to direct them toward places that help the homeless. I'm familiar with Foundry and will be there on Saturday morning.
Deb said…
Hey Eric! I've been kicking around an idea in my head for a class project regarding the mayor's new homeless assistance plan. Can you tell me the person to contact for statistical data regarding shelters closed, permanent supportive housing, provided and the numbers of participants already moved? I searched the National Alliance to End Homelessness site, but could not find anything. Your help would be greatly appreciated!
Eric Sheptock said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eric Sheptock said…
First of all, Deb, there was a statement in my previous comment where I lost the thought and the statement didn't make any sense. It should have said,"It [Martha Burt's report] fails to take into account the fact that the number of homeless people is not a static number and that having a good system of helping the homeless brings more of them to town".

As for the stats that you want, I mentioned several in an article that I wrote entitled "No End In Sight". That article is in 2 papers and in my Facebook notes. You can find it in the present issue of Street Sense [March 18th thru 31st], which can be bought from street vendors wearing the lime green vests throughout the DC metro area, especially in Downtown DC. I actually got them from Fred Swan of DC Gov.'s Dept. of Human services during the last ICH meeting. (I can send you many e-mail addresses from .) You can also get stats from the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless. (I've never looked them up on-line.) Their office is at 1200 U street, NW. They share the building with the Afro-American Civil war Memorial.

You can also google the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness (TCP). They oversee funding for many shelters in DC and gather stats on a daily basis.

Finally, you can google the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) or visit them at 2201 P street, NW (in the Church of the Pilgrims). I believe the e-mails of their 2 primary employees (off the top of my head) are:

Mike O'Neill --


Mike Stoops -- .

The NCH website is very informative.

Per Fred Swan, over 3,100 homeless singles have applied for Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) of which 414 have been housed. Over 360 families have applied for PSH of which 1 has been housed. There are over 6,200 homeless individuals in DC. (These stats were true as of February 25th, 2009 -- the date of the last ICH meeting.)
Matt said…
Good suggestions I'll keep that in mind when I'm able to do so.

I should have clarified the note about being attacked, that was actually at a metro station and I think the guy was a mentally ill person from the clinic nearby that station I was at (Congress Heights); I just mentioned it as a reason why I don't usually carry money.

I have not yet encountered a homeless person who has acted like that.
Matt said…
I should also mention that, although I was too young to remember much of it, and I don't pretend to really know what it's like being homeless--my parents filed bankruptcy during the late 80's (shortly after I was born) and eventually were forced out of their home to live with family for a while while they got things put back together (and find a way to pay for the 5 un-insured eye sugeries I reqired after birth to have some vision).
At one point my mother lived with me at my father's parents' home in one state while my dad went to another to find work. I've had other family fall on similar hard times and so I try to remember that when a stereotype does creep into my mind...

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