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D.C. Homeless Protest Reaches City Hall

2 Opposing Sale of SW Shelter Camp on Ledge

By Theola S. Labbe and Allan Lengel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 10, 2004; Page B01

Two activists climbed onto a fifth-floor ledge inside the John A. Wilson Building yesterday to protest the closure and proposed sale of a men's homeless shelter in Southwest Washington.

The women, who sang songs and shouted facts about homelessness from their perch, were persuaded by police negotiators and a fellow member of Mayday DC to leave the ledge in the city hall's atrium about 9 p.m., 5 1/2 hours after occupying the spot.

The two protesters, members of Mayday DC, set out their banner, shouted about homelessness and sang Christmas carols as the day wore on. (Robert A. Reeder -- The Washington Post)

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Mayday DC, a group that has objected to the city's decision to close the Randall School men's shelter, identified one of the women as Emily Rudicell, 19, and the second only as Sen, 18. The group said both are homeless. Both women were charged with unlawful entry and disorderly conduct, said Michael Anzallo, superintendent of detectives for the D.C. police.

According to witnesses, the women scaled a seven-foot plate of protective glass separating the hallway railing from the ledge and crept along the ledge, 50 feet above the building's ground floor, before unfurling a white banner that read: "Randall Is Shelter, Not Surplus."

The D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department responded with more than 30 firefighters, spokesman Alan Etter said. Early last evening, officers set up a large, inflatable cushion four stories below the protesters. But the women reentered the main part of the building after police negotiators and fellow Mayday member Adrian Madsen, 22, told them that the ledge wasn't safe and that the sale was not yet a done deal.

. The city plans to sell Randall, a former junior high school at I and Half streets SW, to the Corcoran Museum of Art for $6.2 million. But first, a D.C. Council committee must declare that the building is surplus property and no longer has a government use.

Mayday DC, which also disrupted a council hearing on the issue yesterday, said that since the city closed Randall on Nov. 3, 30 to 50 men have been living in the streets instead of transferring to a newly opened shelter about three miles away in Southeast Washington. The group wants the city to reopen Randall or find another shelter site in Southwest.

The protest began when Mayday DC disrupted a subcommittee meeting that D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) had scheduled to vote on whether Randall should be declared surplus property. Graham was planning to vote in favor of the declaration, but the protesters, reading from a prepared statement, would not allow him to conduct the meeting.

Graham walked out of the first-floor hearing. About 10 minutes later, about 3:30 p.m., the two women climbed onto the ledge, said Fernando Rivero, counsel to Graham's committee, who watched them as he waited for an elevator on the fourth floor.

"You just don't see that every day," Rivero said.

Protective Services, the security force that guards city buildings, arrested two other protesters, Marcella Largess, 19, of Mount Rainier and Jamie Moorby, 22, of the District. They allegedly assisted the two women in climbing onto the ledge.

The acoustics of the atrium garbled some words of the protesters, who shouted from their perch. "People are suffering as a direct result of the Randall closing," one called out. Later, they sang Christmas carols.

The chaos brought work to a halt on the fifth floor, as civil servants from the mayor's executive offices and the offices of council members left their desks to gawk at the disruption.

"The people's business was disrupted today," Graham said. He said the subcommittee will vote on the shelter's sale today and send the issue to the Committee on Economic Development.

Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, who was in the building for a meeting with the mayor, said security was adequate at the Wilson Building, which requires identification to enter. He said there is little authorities can do to prevent people from demonstrating in such a way.

"It's an open building," Ramsey said. "How do you stop that?"

Staff writer Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this report.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company