January 30, 2009

FORMER FRANKLIN SHELTER OCCUPANTS SUE FENTY


Former inhabitants of Franklin Shelter have sued Mayor Adrian Fenty over the abrupt closing of the only city downtown shelter this past fall. Plaintiffs are trying to get the city to provide shelter for those in need in the downtown DC area. Since Franklin Shelter was closed, former inhabitants of Franklin Shelter have been sent to the poorest parts of the city, lacking access to much needed medical and mental health services, with few, if any job opportunities. In addition to the loss of mental health and healthcare services, and loss of access to food and day labor opportunities, some former Franklin Shelter inhabitants also lost their possessions when the shelter was abruptly closed.

Mayor Fenty has used the newly implemented Permanent Supportive Housing Program as an excuse to close the shelter, but hundreds of people seeking shelter have applied for this program with little hope of ever being admitted, and the District Council slashed $5.6 million in funding for the program shortly after the shelter was closed.

The Permanent Supportive Housing Program has only housed approximately 300 persons so far. In contrast to this small number, 13,000 single adults and 2,800 adults and children use emergency shelter in DC every year, according to a 2008 study by the Urban Institute on Public Homelessness. And 2,200 single adults were chronically homeless on a single night in January 2008. Many of the homeless suffer from mental illness and are not being treated.

According to homeless advocates Kim Johnson and Pete Tucker, who have been organizing a series of meetings with the homeless about their current living situations, "The situation in other shelters is becoming worse. The New York Avenue Shelter, for instance, is a human rights violation."

Most Supportive Housing placements have been in the poorest sections of the city, in drug and crime-ridden neighborhoods. One participant in the fledgling Supportive Housing Program, Tommy Overton, was brutally beaten in front of his apartment this past fall after being placed in a Supportive Housing apartment in Ward 8.