A standoff between police and protesters who staged a sit-in at a former homeless shelter in Southwest Washington ended yesterday with the arrests of seven people.
Activists with the group Mayday DC had occupied the former Randall Shelter at I and Half streets SW since Wednesday night, unofficially "reopening" it to the homeless. Since then, about 40 people had received housing, food and other necessities such as aspirin, said the protesters, who demanded that the city keep the building open as a shelter.
Activists demand "Shelter Here! Now! Forever!" from the roof of the former shelter at I and Half streets SW.
(Photos James A.. Parcell -- The Washington Post)
"The city government's policies seem to be to sweep the homeless out of sight," Jamie Loughner, 40, said yesterday afternoon as she stood inside the squat red-brick building and poked her head out a metal door's small broken window, before police moved in. Behind her were green cots and a table loaded with soda bottles and orange juice cartons, while above her activists sat on the roof near a spray-painted sheet reading, "Shelter Here! Now! Forever!"
Loughner was one of seven activists inside the building when police officers started making arrests about 5 p.m., said Kristan Markey, a spokesman for the group. Markey said that officers went up to the roof in a cherry picker and arrested the seven one by one.
Sgt. Joe Gentile, a D.C. police spokesman, said four women and three men were arrested by D.C. Protective Services, which protects District government property.
The seven were charged with unlawful entry and were held last night at the 1st Police District station, authorities said.
On Nov. 3, the D.C. Department of Human Services closed the facility, an overnight emergency shelter for men located in a former junior high school. The city plans to sell the building to the Corcoran Museum of Art and College of Art and Design for $6.2 million.
After the shelter's closing, city officials opened 150 beds for homeless men on the campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital in Southeast. They said yesterday that of the approximately 170 men at the Randall shelter, all but about 10 voluntarily started staying at the shelter at St. Elizabeths.
Debra A. Daniels, a spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services, said the shelter at the hospital is in a renovated space with new showers and room for the city to offer support services. Transportation has been provided to the men so they can travel between the shelter and downtown, she said.
"The Department of Human Services is working very, very hard on behalf of the mayor . . . to provide safe and decent shelter for the homeless," Daniels said.
But homeless advocates inside and outside the Randall building yesterday criticized the city for moving beds out of the downtown area, where the homeless often congregate and where many social services are located.
"We need to preserve the right to shelter downtown," said Jill Blankespoor, 28, a Mayday DC activist who took part in the sit-in.
The protesters appeared to have succeeded in throwing the future of the Randall building into question.
City officials said the deal with the Corcoran is not yet official, and a D.C. Council subcommittee plans to vote Monday on whether to declare the property no longer needed for government use. The deal cannot go forward until the subcommittee votes to declare the building surplus property, city officials said.
Two members of the three-member subcommittee, council members Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), said they were willing to hear the protesters' concerns at the meeting Monday.
Fenty, who drove to the building yesterday to observe the sit-in, said he would like to see the Corcoran keep part of the building open as a shelter. "Either this stays as a shelter or a shelter opens around here," he said.
Graham said the closure of the Randall shelter has left Southwest without a men's shelter. "They couldn't have a more sympathetic panel," he said of the protesters.