As Shelter's Closing Nears, a Traffic-Halting March

Activists who were near the White House protesting a proposed U.S. financial bailout join the march over the fate of the Franklin School shelter at 13th and K streets NW.
Activists who were near the White House protesting a proposed U.S. financial bailout join the march over the fate of the Franklin School shelter at 13th and K streets NW. (By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)
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By Elissa Silverman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 26, 2008

The homeless men who live at Franklin School shelter said they were told yesterday that last night would be their final one at the downtown facility, and about 150 activists marched and halted traffic in front of the shelter during the evening rush in protest of the news.

"They said they are going to close the doors and we can't come back in," said D'Juan Bean, a shelter resident who is president of the Committee to Save Franklin Shelter. "They said, 'Take all your belongings with you in the morning.' "

The shelter, at 13th and K streets NW, has been a point of contention between the D.C. Council and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), who announced plans to close the downtown facility by Wednesday. This month, the council passed an emergency bill instructing the mayor to keep Franklin open until he gives his legislative colleagues a detailed plan on how he will house those who use the shelter and provide them with job training, mental health care and other social services.

The legislation was a reaction to the administration's efforts to start giving some homeless men apartments in an ambitious effort to move the city away from large, communal shelters. The number of beds available at Franklin each night has been reduced from 300 to fewer than 50.

The mayor has 10 business days to sign or veto the bill, which passed Sept. 16. "Right now, he is not technically breaking the law, but he's violating the intent of the council," said Andy Silver, a lawyer with the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless.

Fenty administration officials would not confirm the shelter's closing. When asked yesterday whether the facility is closing today, spokeswoman Mafara Hobson said in an e-mail: "The administration is still committed to providing permanent supportive housing to the men at Franklin Shelter, with the end goal of closing the shelter by Oct. 1."

Bean said the men were told that they would be taken to a shelter on the campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital, a location many homeless men said is inaccessible to work and social services they use.

"A lot of men have told us they will stay outside downtown rather than go" there, Silver said.

Activists chanting "Franklin Shelter -- Keep It Open" were joined by members of Code Pink and protesters who came from an earlier event in front of the White House, where they protested President Bush's proposed $700 billion financial bailout package. They shouted in unison, "No Bail Out, No Kick Out."

"It is a humanitarian issue," said Hannah Van Hook of Falls Church, who said she decided to join the Franklin march after hearing about it from fellow bailout protesters.

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