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Acting for the Needy on a Day of Thanks

Activists Occupy Closed NW Shelter to Demand More Housing for the Homeless

By Nicole Fuller
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 26, 2004; Page B03

Before Rose Marie Flynn finished preparing a Thanksgiving meal for herself and 13 guests, she wanted to take a stand for the homeless.

So the 78-year-old retired chemist and member of the Gray Panthers, a seniors activist group, left her Bethesda home yesterday morning with her husband Joe, 82, to take part in a rally to demand that the District provide more housing for its poor.

Jamie Moorby, left, looks out of the Randall shelter as an officer talks with other activists who occupied the building, demanding that it be reopened. (Lucian Perkins - The Washington Post)

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The Flynns were among a dozen activists who served breakfast -- bagels, coffee and fruit -- to homeless people outside the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and then marched to a recently closed shelter for men. About half of them forced their way into the former Randall Shelter at Half and I streets SW.

They set up cots, blankets and food and said they planned to have the building operating as a shelter again by yesterday evening. A D.C. police officer at the building said no one would be arrested unless the building's owner complained.

The D.C. Department of Human Services closed the shelter, operated by Catholic Charities, on Nov. 3 and opened 150 beds for homeless men on the campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital in Southeast Washington. The city plans to sell the Randall building to the Corcoran Museum of Art and College of Art and Design for $6.2 million.

Jamie Loughner, 40, of Mayday DC, the group that organized the protest, said the city has systematically pushed the homeless out of downtown, making it difficult for many to access food and other social services. City officials promised to provide evening and morning shuttle bus service from St. Elizabeths.

"This is the time of year when city officials like to play up their generosity for the homeless," Loughner said. "But really, they give with one hand and take with the other."

Loughner and others questioned whether the Randall Shelter was closed and its clientele shifted three miles from downtown because of the shelter's proximity to the site of the Washington National's proposed baseball stadium.

Protesters chanted, "Housing Not Stadiums" and unfurled a sign on the shelter's roof proclaiming, "Mayor Williams, You Can't Run the Homeless Out of DC."

It was the second time in eight months that the city closed a homeless shelter and put replacement beds miles from downtown. In March, city officials closed the 150-bed Gales Shelter in Northwest, blocks from the U.S. Capitol, and opened 200 beds in a men's shelter in Northeast. City officials have said they decided to close the shelters because they were dilapidated and beyond repair.

Flynn, who said she has protested the lack of homeless shelters in the past, said the city needs to increase funding for services to the homeless.

"If you don't take care of the poor, there's a problem," Flynn said. "It's just a crime."

But after standing in the rain for about an hour, chanting alongside younger protesters and talking politics, she had other things to tend to.

"The turkey's in the oven," she explained.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company