It’s been almost two years since the city shut down a homeless men’s shelter at the Franklin School on 13th and K Streets NW. Advocates sued, and the case has since wound its way through the D.C. Superior Court—a request for an injunction to re-open the shelter was denied—as well as the D.C. Court of Appeals, where it was last heard on April 1st. Tomorrow morning, a collection of homeless plaintiffs will have a hearing before the U.S. District Court, which is but two steps away from the Supremes.
The case rests on charges that, in closing the shelter, the city violated the D.C. Human Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Fair Housing Act on the basis of disparate treatment—the men served by the Franklin Shelter were overwhelmingly African American and frequently had mental disabilities and substance abuse problems. “Defendants intentionally denied plaintiffs housing because of plaintiffs’ race,” reads one part of the complaint. In addition, the plaintiffs fault the city for failing to provide adequate alternative shelter for those displaced, as well as homeless families across the District now packed into overcrowded shelters. Oh, and they’re suing for damages of $10 million in damages on each count.
A couple of weeks ago, Mayor Adrian Fenty celebrated the creation of 1,000 units of permanent supportive housing, which puts the District on track to meet its goal of 2,500 such units by 2014. But the need for emergency shelter is rising fast—by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government’s count, the District has 6,538 homeless people this year, up from 6,228 last year. And Central Union Mission is headed downtown, but no where soon enough to reassure those looking looking at another cold winter.
At the same time, another group is pushing the District to move faster on the reason it kicked people out of the shelter to begin with—putting the Franklin School back into use as a school. There’s an exhibit on at the Washington Historical Society detailing the building’s architecture and history, which organizers hope will help raise awareness of the issue. From the city, there’s been nothing but silence; responses to a request for proposal were due back in January, and the Department of Planning and Economic Development has told advocates that they are still studying the submissions. Meanwhile, preservationists worry that the interior of the school can’t be doing well as time goes by.
The hearing is at 9:00 a.m. in Courtroom 16, 333 Constitution Avenue NW.