As the sun rose on Friday, crews moved in to load beds and tables onto trucks and board up the doors of the only homeless shelter in Northwest D.C.
Mayor Adrian Fenty ordered the shutdown of the all-male Franklin Shelter at 14th and K streets amid massive resistance from residents and the D.C. City Council, which passed a bill on Sept. 16 to halt its closure until a plan was established for the well-being of its 300 residents. Though the shelter was closed last week, Fenty has until Tuesday to sign or veto the bill, which could decide the fate of Franklin Shelter.
“The city council is basically impotent,” said Brian Anders, a physician’s assistant and homeless advocate who was at Franklin Park protesting Friday, adding, “The mayor is like George Bush.”
On Friday morning, the men were asked to take out all of their belongings and told that anything left would be sent to a shelter on the campus of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Southeast D.C. As night fell and the rain picked up, at least 30 men with “Downtown Shelter Saves Lives” stickers were across the street from the shelter, protesting the closure and wondering where they would sleep without the facility.
“I have to rough it for the night,” said Eric Sheptock, who lived at Franklin Shelter for three years and was one of the lead protestors. “I hope somebody has a tent I can get in.”
More than 50 men from the Franklin Shelter received apartments earlier this month as part of a national Housing First plan to give the homeless permanent supportive housing. But Sheptock said this plan is flawed and people get kicked out for drug use or are given rooms with rats and roaches.
Anna Johnson, the social action and advocacy coordinator for the GW Office of Community Service, works with transitional housing corporations. She said she supports Housing First, but said Fenty is moving too fast.
“If well-funded and well-executed, I think (Housing First) can be a good thing,” she said. “It does not necessarily justify closing a shelter.”
Franklin Shelter’s Northwest location is vital to many of its residents, who have part-time jobs and receive support services in the area. Soup kitchens like Bread for the City and Miriam’s Kitchen are convenient for the men, said Marina Streznewski, a Foggy Bottom resident and the head of the D.C. Jobs Council, which advocates for jobs and works with coalitions that help the homeless.
She said with the spike in foreclosures and the shuttering of shelters, there will be more homeless people on the streets of Northwest D.C.
“It’s already visible, and it’s going to become more and more visible.” Streznewski said. “If we have a bad winter, I really think people are going to die.”
A statement from the mayor’s office Saturday said the city housed more than 300 shelter residents throughout D.C. and they are “currently in the process of preparing a summary illustrating the fulfillment of the mayor’s commitment to provide permanent supportive housing for our homeless neighbors, instead of placing them in a poor shelter environment.”
But the shelter is not as bad as the mayor says it is, said Lewis Cannao, who has a job installing skylights at Washington Dulles International Airport. He said the only problem he had with the shelter during his two years was people stealing his towels.
“I had no problem in there,” he said. “I knew everybody in there.”
Natalie Kaplan, the service coordinator for hunger, homelessness and poverty issues for OCS, signed an online petition to save the shelter and frequented Franklin to talk to the men. A self-proclaimed “bleeding heart,” she said she wants homeless rights to be recognized.
“We’re citizens of D.C. like anyone else,” said Kaplan, a senior. “These are our neighbors.”