Homeless, Allies March at Mayor's House
Friday, August 22, 2008
About 20 homeless people and advocates gathered outside D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's house last night to protest the recent scaling back of beds at a downtown shelter, as well as plans to close it this fall.
The demonstrators said the city is acting too fast in phasing out the Franklin School Shelter, at 13th and K streets NW. The number of available beds has dropped in recent weeks, from 300 to about 260, with few alternatives being offered to those who need them, they said.
"We've gotten no response at all to e-mails, phone calls or visits to the mayor's office," said D'Juan Bean, 44, one of about a half-dozen shelter residents on hand. "We need to see the mayor in person."
Bean, who came to the protest dressed as the Grim Reaper, said he fears that some homeless people will die in the cold of winter if Fenty (D) carries out plans to close the shelter Oct. 1. The protesters chanted "Save Franklin, Save lives" as they marched along 16th Street NW toward the mayor's neighborhood.
Fenty arrived home just before 8 p.m., about 40 minutes after the demonstration began. He spoke briefly to the group, saying he will not reconsider the decision to close the facility. He promised, however, to meet with the protesters Monday at the Department of Human Services.
"We might not always agree, but I think we want the same thing," the mayor told the group, which ended the protest soon after.
Earlier, Dena Iverson, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said the administration is working to help the shelter's remaining residents make the transition into permanent housing.
Since the shelter opened in 2003, its central location has made it popular with many homeless people. Critics have accused the city of trying to move homeless services out of downtown to facilities on New York Avenue NE and in Southeast.
District officials have said that the shelter's building is decrepit and that the city's strategy is geared toward creating more permanent housing for the homeless.
As the closing date has approached, the shelter's capacity has been reduced, said Andy Silver, an attorney for the Washington Legal Clinic, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the homeless.
"They've been reducing capacity without increasing capacity at other shelters," Silver said. "And not one person has moved into the city's permanent housing yet."
Last week, some residents met in Franklin's dining hall and formed the Committee to Save Franklin School Shelter. Bean was appointed president, and another resident, Eric Sheptock, was named public affairs coordinator.
"It's really hard to get homeless guys to organize. When they began taking the beds apart, we had to get serious," Sheptock said.
Another group of demonstrators staged a similar protest last month outside D.C. Council member Tommy Wells's home. About 75 advocates in that group targeted Wells (D-Ward 6) because he is chairman of the council's Committee on Human Services. Wells promised to look into the issue.