- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 31, 2009

Advocates of a closed D.C. homeless shelter who are suing Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, a Democrat, got an earful from a D.C. Superior Court Judge on Friday, who said their case to reopen the shelter has a negligible chance of success.

Judge Brooke Hedge appeared agitated during a hearing for plaintiffs in the bid to reopen the Franklin Shelter on 13th and K Streets Northwest. The shelter, which provided emergency beds and services for up to 300 homeless men, was abruptly closed on Sept. 26. The closing was part of Mr. Fenty’s comprehensive “Housing First” program, which is aimed at providing permanent housing for the homeless as well as important wrap-around social services.

“I’m not a legislator, I have no authority to rule that,” said Judge Hedge, reacting to the plaintiffs’ request that the court reopen the shelter. The closing of Franklin Shelter has caused outrage among homeless advocates, who say that those who were moved out are now suffering on the street or in run-down conditions at other shelters across the District.

The D.C. Council, in an effort to prevent the closing, had ordered on Sept. 15 that the mayor postpone the move until Sept. 30, so that council could get details on where the inhabitants were being relocated, but the shelter was closed anyway.

The plaintiffs, all of whom were former inhabitants of the shelter, were then denied a temporary restraining order to stop Mr. Fenty from closing the shelter on Oct. 1, the date they thought the shelter would close.

Mr. Fenty, at the council’s request, reported that about 380 men, including those in the Franklin Shelter, had been put in supportive housing units by Sept. 30. Plaintiffs’ attorney Jane Zara said the report “superficially addressed the problem.”

Now, the plaintiffs hope the court will rule in their favor, given what they say is new evidence of “irreparable harm” done to the former inhabitants, who they claim have been either living in substandard conditions at other shelters or have simply been moved out onto the streets. On Dec. 24, Yoshio Nakada, a homeless man and former inhabitant of the Franklin Shelter, was found beaten to death outside an apartment complex on 24th Street and Virginia Avenue Northwest.

Tommy Bennett, 53, who stayed at the shelter for three months before it closed, said he was moved to a shelter at 801 East Building 2700 Martin Luther King Avenue Southeast, which he described as crowded and dilapidated.

“It was crowded, it’s dirty, there’s no hot water, I don’t like the area because it’s drug infected; I just don’t like it” said Mr. Bennett.

Officials at Catholic Charities, which runs the shelter, said the allegations were unfounded.

Judge Hedge said that since the opening and the closing of the Franklin Shelter were the responsibility of the D.C. Council, and since the earlier restraining order had failed, it was unlikely the court was going to intervene.

“I just don’t think you have a substantial chance of success,” she said.

Miss Zana claims that the plaintiffs have no choice but to go through the court because the D.C. Council has been too silent or inactive on the issue. Council member Marion Barry, Ward 8 Democrat, had introduced emergency legislation to reopen the shelter on Oct. 7, but the bill has been tabled.

“We don’t know why the council has been so silent, so we’re asking the court to step in, and the judge just doesn’t think it’s time,” Miss Zana said.

Another hearing has been scheduled for Tuesday.

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