If you’ve noticed more men sleeping on the streets lately in Columbia Heights—despite the bitter cold—it’s probably because the place they’d have stayed for the last couple of decades, La Casa shelter on Irving Street, has been closed for over two months now. With the help of public interest lawyer Jane Zara, a few of them have signed on as plaintiffs in a case against Mayor Adrian Fenty, alleging violations of both D.C. and federal law. Charges include:
- The closure of a shelter in the face of acute need for services is “in conflict with the goals envisioned by the drafters” of the Homeless Services Reform Act, passed in 2005. As part of that effort, permanent supportive housing—to which all La Casa residents were supposed to be transferred—”was never intended to be used as an excuse for displacing the homeless from the low barrier shelters before the needs of the inhabitants have been met.”
- Forcing the mentally disabled homeless to seek services far away from their accustomed place of residence is a violation of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
- Pushing La Casa’s homeless residents into further-flung regions of the district violates the Fair Housing Act, since it has a disparate impact on poor, minority, and disabled people.
- Taking away a low-barrier shelter in the face of increasing need, with inadequate short-term alternatives and indeterminate long term plans for its restoration, flies in the face of the City Council’s resolution to declare D.C. a Human Rights City.
This is the same group that sued the city over its closure of the Franklin Shelter, which hasn’t yet resulted in its reopening—a decision is still pending in the D.C. Court of Appeals—but I supposed each shelter closed bolsters the case that the next one might be illegal.
Read the plaintiffs’ most recent filing here. A hearing is scheduled for next Monday, December 20th, at 3:00 p.m. in Courtroom 29A of the US District Courthouse.