Thursday, April 23, 2009

MY NEW JOB and A Chronology of the Franklin School Shelter Closure

First of all, I recently landed a new job. The most recent video on the right side of my blog shows me speaking with my new boss. This job, which I began on April 21st, as well as the many meetings and other events that I attend have kept me from doing much blogging lately.

(Homeless advocacy involves a lot of meetings and plenty of footwork. The footwork is compounded if you are a homeless homeless advocate who lacks funds for public transportation.)

In the little bit of time that I was able to squeeze in for blogging today I decided to copy and paste a slightly edited version of an e-mail that I originally sent as an answer to someone's questions about the Franklin School Shelter closure process. I hope you find it to be interesting.

Soon I will blog about my new job as well as efforts by several homeless advocates to collaborate with DC Government and create a comprehensive process for employing the homeless. Until then.....



The mayor announced his plan for ending chronic homelessness on April 2nd, 2008. that plan included the creation of Permanent Supportive Housing and the closure of Franklin School Shelter. (He can be seen making the announcement by going to the video at the very bottom of the line of videos here in my blog.) Then, Clarence Carter, the director of DC Government's Dept. of Human Services (not the singer), came out to Franklin School Shelter with several others from DHS on April 6th and spoke "at" us about the plans for Franklin and its residents. Greg "Red" Faulkner, a Franklin resident, drilled Mr. Carter about us being talked "at" about our futures.

During that meeting, Clarence Carter acted as the mayor's mouthpiece as he said that Franklin was an old, decrepit building that was not fit for human habitation. Oddly enough, as he spoke, he was facing a brand new, shiny metal heating unit that had just been installed months earlier. It was one of 4 units. the city had just put over $2 million into renovating the building.
(See the link: http://dc.indymedia.org/newswire/display/142928/index.php .)

The mayor has also stated another reason for closing Franklin. He says that he doesn't want to warehouse the homeless in large shelters. I've already explained that the building wasn't quite as decrepit as the mayor made it out to be, since over $2 million had been spent renovating it. When I brought that up to Mr. Carter during this meeting, he said that there was no sense in spending any more on renovation, as it would amount to throwing good money after bad. However, the latter reason of not wanting to warehouse the homeless doesn't pan out either insomuch as there are other larger shelters that have not been closed and which I don't know to be on the chopping block -- for certain anyway. (In an earlier blogpost I expressed suspicion about Mayor Fenty's plans to close all DC homeless shelters. I've yet to find out for certain whether or not he plans to close all shelters, though Martha Burt of the Urban Institute issued a report in which she suggested that the mayor cut shelter capacity in half.) Franklin had 300 men, whereas the NY Ave. Shelter has 360; 801 East has 380 and the Federal City Shelter (2nd and D) has 1,500 people. Evidently, he didn't go after the larger "warehouses". Let's hope that he doesn't.

As for the Franklin Residents, they were quite anxious when they first received the news of the impending closure. During the April 6th meeting, DHS got inundated with questions and comments. They actually had to do 2 meetings that night, due to the limited meeting space and the number of residents that chose to attend. Several of my friends who are community activists attended the first meeting and took the videos and photos that you saw in the above link. Then the book was thrown at them as they were told by DHS that they couldn't stay because the meeting was for shelter residents only. (I think they only got to stay for the first meeting because DHS didn't realize who they were. At least one of them was a woman in a meeting at an all male shelter.) Either way, they got out with the photos that you saw, even though it's against Catholic Charities' rules to have anyone take photos inside of a shelter. (Catholic Charities ran Franklin School Shelter.)

I need to put in a plug here. The mayor's argument that Franklin was unfit for human habitation doesn't hold water for yet another reason. There is presently a serious shortage of shelter space in DC. The shelter capacity in the city was decreased by about 400 beds with the onset of spring. Winter is over and the hypothermia shelters have been shut down. I was at a meeting on the morning of April 17th, 2009, in which we were addressing this shelter bed shortage and discussing how we were going to approach DC government about this issue. It is a very basic concept that you shouldn't get rid of what you've got until you get something better. Nonetheless, Franklin School Shelter has been closed, as have the hypothermia shelters and people are taking to the streets. Homeless women are sometimes left to sleep outside near storefronts in order to stay dry during a storm.

I went to a WIN (Washington Inter-faith Network) meeting on April 7th. The mayor attended that meeting, as the meeting was to address the mayor's housing and neighborhood development plans. the mayor told me something that conflicted with what his cabinet member, Clarence Carter, had told me the previous day. Mr. Carter had said that the units of Permanent Supportive Housing would not be allocated for the men at Franklin. On the 7th, I was able to waylay the mayor as he entered Emory United Methodist Church and to discuss the Franklin closure with him briefly. The mayor said during our conversation that 400 units of PSH would be set aside for the Franklin residents. I told him that wasn't true. He insisted that it was. I said firmly that it wasn't true and told him that I'd spoken with Clarence Carter the previous evening. With that he stepped a little closer to me so as to hear me out. I turned out to know more about what his administration was doing than he did. And he knew it.

(With the scenario having played out completely at this point, Clarence Carter turned out to be right. 86 Franklin residents out of the 300 that the building held were housed prior to its closing. The rest were moved to other shelters where they began to occupy the beds left vacant by former residents of those shelters who were housed.)

The majority of shelter residents who stated their feelings on the matter said that they didn't see any reason to fight the closure because the government was going to do what it wanted to do with the homeless. It was very difficult to get any of the homeless to stay involved in the fight. However, those who weren't homeless stayed involved. A man named Brian Anders suggested that I get a copy of the movie "Promises To Keep" from the National Coalition for the Homeless and show the men at Franklin how Mitch Snyder and others wrested the Federal City College from the Reagan administration and made it into a shelter. He and I showed it to them on April 16th.

On May 6th, 2008, I attended a meeting about Permanent Supportive Housing at the Wilson Bldg. (City Hall). After that meeting, I was approached by Greg Wragg of S.T.R.E.A.T.S. T.V. who told me about the show and asked if I wanted to be part of the discussion panel during the May 28th taping. I obliged and on May 28th, Clarence Carter, Sue Marshall of the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness
( http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=community+partnership+for+the+prevention+of+homelessness&aq=8&oq=community+partnership ), several other homeless advocates/service providers and myself discussed the mayor's housing first plan called Permanent Supportive Housing. (You can see the segment that includes Clarence carter, Christy respress and myself at:
http://www.youtube.com/results?search_type=&search_query=Eric+sheptock&aq=f .
In June of last year, Greg also set up my blog at the S.T.R.E.A.T.S. website.

On July 25th, 2008, as 300 men lined up to receive shelter for the night, we were told to go to the office upon entering the building. As we did, it was explained to us that anyone who had not used Franklin Shelter often enough within the last 90 days would not be allowed to return after August 1st. I got the details within the next couple of days and found out that DHS had done a survey. That survey indicated that, within the 90 days ending on July 25th, approx. 1,000 men had used Franklin School Shelter. Of those 1,000 men, 300 of them had used it at least 34 of the last 90 days and/or at least 500 nights since its inception as a shelter in late 2002. The other 700 men would not be allowed to return after August 1st.

As it turns out, many of the 300 eligible men had since moved on and many of the 700 ineligibles had nowhere to go by August 1st. I alerted people at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless
( http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=washington+legal+clinic+for+the+homeless&aq=0&oq=washington+legal+clinic+for ) via e-mail. They came down on or about July 27th and talked to the residents about where we would go in the immediate future if put out on August 1st. They gathered statements from about 2 dozen residents who'd've been adversely affected and took those statements to DC Government's Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH). As the hearing was being set up, DHS got word of it and reversed their decision voluntarily, presumably in order to avoid an embarrassing fight that the homeless were sure to win. So, the men were not turned away on the 1st based on the frequency of their usage of the shelter.

DHS had another trick up their sleeve. They gave the order to dismantle a few beds each day. Many of the homeless get disability checks and don't use shelter for the first week or two of the month. They return when their money runs out. If a bed was empty for a single night, it was disassembled. If the man returned needing a bed in the future, he was told that there was no capacity. The dismantled beds were being put on the 2nd floor in plain sight at first. When the Legal Clinic was alerted again, the dismantled beds were moved to the 3rd floor, which remains locked and never had dormitories on it. It was always just used for storage. Men were being sent to the streets and to other shelters as the dismantled beds lie unused on the 3rd floor. This process continued from August 1st until the eventual closing on september 26th.

Throughout August and September the homeless and many advocates held several rallies and meetings. We went to the Wilson Bldg. to try to talk the government out of closing the shelter. Throughout the approx. 6 months prior to its closing, many people told DC government not to close Franklin. A plug was put in for Franklin at any meeting about human services, whether or not the meeting was about Franklin or even about shelter at all. On August 21st, about 2 dozen people rallied in front of the mayor's house. (see video in blog.) As a result of that rally, 3 other homeless advocates, Clarence Carter, the mayor and I met on the 27th. The mayor just proved to be stubborn and intransigent.

On September 10th, DHS began an aggressive effort to get the men out of Franklin. The men lined up, as usual, at 4:30 PM to begin check-in. As they entered the building, they were made to sign paperwork which informed them about the impending closure and asked them where they'd go after the closure and if they needed help getting there. Check-in normally took an hour or less. This night it took until 9:30 PM. It was very frustrating to stand in line for up to 5 hours. I personally left and came back around 8 PM. Throughout this long, tedious check-in process, Pat Handy from DHS was present.

The following morning, Pat Handy was back bright and early with several DHS employees and some mental health specialists so as to move dozens of the Franklin residents into housing units. Many people feel that this was done too quickly and haphazardly. On September 3rd, only 3 people had been housed by the Permanent Supportive Housing program. When Franklin closed on the 26th, 240 men had been housed. Many of those who were housed have lost that housing; because, their issues haven't been dealt with adequately and they haven't received the wrap-around services that were promised.

It is important to note that not all of the 240 men came from Franklin. Franklin School Shelter had a capacity of 300. A DHS study showed that about 1,000 men used that shelter in a 3-month period. Only 86 men from Franklin had been housed by the time of the closure. The remainder of those who've been housed by this program came from other shelters. The idea was that housing people from other shelters would open up bed space at those shelters for the former Franklin residents to go to. There are those who feel that, if the mayor was going to close Franklin, he should've housed ALL of the men from Franklin.

On september 12th, the mayor attended the grand opening of the Safeway at 5th and L, NW. About 5 friends and I went to heckle him. We were immediately stopped by his security detail. He promised to speak with us afterward. He spoke to us as we walked from the podium to the car and let us know that he wouldn't change his mind. In a moment of utter frustration, I decided to curse him out. I shouted, "F**k you!!!!! F**k the mayor!! F**k you and the horse you rode in on!!!!" The officer who was with him told me that, if I didn't stop, he would arrest me. I told him that he couldn't; because, I hadn't threatened the mayor. Then, the mayor called me over to the car and gave me a short diatribe about respect. He said that, if I were to continue to curse him out, we wouldn't be able to communicate anymore. (Communicating didn't seem to be doing any good anyway. What would I have lost?????) I asked him the rhetorical question: "Which is worse, cursing or lying to the public?????" To that he responded, "Say what you want about me. Just don't curse me." He then put his hand out to shake mine. As I shook his hand, I said, "If you stop lying, I'll stop cursing". With that we parted.

We'd been told by DHS that Franklin would close by October 1st. (Many made the mistake of thinking that it would close ON October 1st.) However, as I exited the MLK Library on september 25th, I was stopped by 2 Franklin residents and told that they'd gotten word that Franklin was going to close on the following morning. They turned out to be right. Around 4 that afternoon, I went to a rally in front of the White House. While there, Brian Anders and I invited people to the 5 PM rally in front of Franklin. About 200 people marched around the intersection at 13th and K, NW. We were sure to walk very slowly and impede traffic. The police were called. They didn't stop the rally. They just made sure that we kept moving, so as not to bring traffic to a complete halt. The media also showed up to cover the event.

That night, there were only about 50 beds left that had not been dismantled. When I woke up on the 26th, I would find out that all but about 10 of us had been awakened early by shelter staff -- about 4 AM and made to leave the shelter. Those in my dorm were awakened at the usual 6 AM. The staff didn't want to wake me up early, as I would've given them some trouble. It was obviously a divide-and-conquer tactic. I took my time packing up and was the last one to leave the building. I was given some masking tape with which to label my foot lockers and I left them in the hall to be transported to the 801 East shelter. With that, I left the building at 7:15 AM, 15 minutes after the usual closing time.

Pete Tucker and other homeless advocates and community activists were outside on the sidewalk observing the closure. Pete told me about people having been awakened early and all that had transpired that morning prior to me waking and leaving the building. I stood and spoke to various people for about an hour. Around 8 AM, a moving truck pulled up and several men began removing furniture from the building. I left from in front of the building around 8:15 and went to eat at the place which recently changed its name to Thrive DC ( www.thrivedc.org ). It had begun to rain right before I left. That rain would eventually get harder as the day wore on.

One very noticeable thing about the Franklin closure was the police presence. I couldn't help but notice the 12 to 15 cops that were hanging out on the sidewalk and in the alley near Franklin during the closure. Later that same day, there was a major police presence at the Wilson Bldg. as a group of homeless advocates attempted to speak to the mayor about the Franklin closure. In both instances, the cops were questioned about why there were so many of them to handle a group of people who were essentially harmless and just wanted somewhere to lay their heads. In both instances the cops mentioned a group called Mayday DC which has advocated for the homeless on multiple occasions. Mayday DC orchestrated the event during which the vacant Franklin School was broken into so that the homeless people could squat inside and stay warm. During the closure of the Randall School Shelter, a woman from Mayday DC went out on the 5th floor ledge of the Wilson Bldg. to unfurl a banner which stated that"The DC Council hates the homeless". For these reasons, the cops see fit to closely guard any event involving the homeless. There was also a higher-than-usual police presence at the Dept. of Human Services' hearing on shelter and housing which took place on Halloween 2008. This event was also well-attended by the homeless. Furthermore, the police guarded the Franklin School Building for several weeks after the closure. They seem to be afraid of and/or prejudiced against the homeless.

We had planned to rally in front of the Wilson Bldg. at 3:30 that afternoon. I arrived at 4 PM. The rally was well underway. A few minutes later, we began to enter the building. there were about 50 of us. Security told us that only 15 could enter (for which reason the District is being taken to court). So, 15 of us gathered in the foyer of the building and waited to see the mayor. we were given different stories about his whereabouts. we knew that he had a 4:30 meeting and that he had not left the building as we'd been told he had. Another story said that a representative of the mayor would come down and speak with us. That never happened. The 15 of us stood in the foyer and spoke with Councilman Mendelson and people from the office of Marion Barry. We had people to go outside and stand near the mayor's 2 vehicles to watch for him.

Around 6 PM, more than 1 and a half hours after beginning our efforts to meet with the mayor, we were told that we could go upstairs. Several of us went and found the 5th floor and 3rd floor to look like a ghost town. It was obviously an effort to get us away from the exit long enough to enable the mayor to leave. Those of us who'd gone upstairs went back down and exited the building. We joined those who were standing in the rain near the mayor's vehicles.

A few minutes later, at around 6:10 PM, the mayor exited the building with the city administrator Dan Tangherlini and about 10 cops. We began to waylay him and ask him to talk to us about the closure. To that he said,"I've already spoken to Eric." he continued toward his vehicle. People tried to engage him in conversation, but to no avail. I saw Dan Tangherlini walking toward his vehicle, dropped my backpack and began to chase him down. He too refused to speak.

With that, some in our group went home, while others went to Franklin Park to set up tents and sleep in the park. (I was staying at the 801 East Shelter at that time and didn't do the sleep out.) I hung out in the park in the rain for a while and then went to the shelter. The mayor had won the battle, but not the war.

The efforts to change how DC Government treats its homeless continue, even though Franklin is now closed. The court case against Fenty for closing Franklin and mistreating the homeless in other ways as well has been moved to federal court. Many of the community activists have moved on to other things. Only a few of us remain involved in the fight that began with Franklin. (You can google my name and read about the case on-line.) However, the issue of homelessness is getting more and more attention as a result of the world-wide depression. Some other homeless advocates and I were interviewed by Russian TV about homelessness just 2 weeks ago. La lucha continua.

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3 Comments:

Anonymous Clare said...

Congrats with the new job!! Hope everything else is going well - Clare (from New York, met at Thrive DC about a month ago)

April 23, 2009 at 5:26 PM  
Anonymous Meghan said...

Congrats on your new job, Eric!

April 24, 2009 at 3:22 PM  
Blogger Julio said...

Dude, if you're so smart why aren't you in school? The Federal Government backs student loans no matter what your credit history...unless you have been arrested and convicted of a crime involving illegal drugs. If that is why you cannot receive federally backed student loans to attend a community college, then it appears that you should be lobbying to pass a law which forgives drug crimes after a certain period of time so that people can rebuild their lives. If you have not been arrested for drugs...then why the hell are you homeless? Student loans MORE than cover the cost of living in the area and you CANNOT be denied because of income. CANNOT BE DENIED. Are you aware of this?

June 10, 2009 at 7:58 PM  

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