A black and white photo taken of the Franklin Shelter from across the street.
Franklin School, located in downtown Washington, has served as shelter for 170 men. Its closure was recently announced. Photo by E. Aiken

The Franklin School, a shelter that currently serves up to 170 men, is slated to close later this year, leaving homeless men in downtown D.C with no public shelter options for an indefinite period of time. 

Officials said that the school, which has served as a shelter for homeless men since 2003, would be sold and renovated into another facility, pending District approval. A closure date will be set for the building sometime after hypothermia season ends on March 31. 

And District officials said they are confident that there is enough support throughout the city to accommodate the homeless population. 

“At this point I think there are enough shelters, and enough beds, to provide for the men during the hypothermia season,” said Chris Bender, director of communications for D.C.’s Office of Planning and Economic Development. 

Still, advocates are worried that closing Franklin, the only publicly run downtown shelter in the system, will leave many downtown homeless on the streets. 

“Capacity isn’t the issue – location is,” said Mike Ferrell, executive director of the D.C Coalition for the Homeless. Ferrell pointed out that the need for shelter space in downtown D.C is particularly important during the winter. The Franklin School at 13th and K street in Northwest, La Casa in Mount Pleasant, and the recently closed Randall School in Southwest run at or above capacity on hypothermia days. 

When the Franklin School Shelter closes, it will be the third downtown shelter to close within a year. The Gales School, located at 65 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, closed in April 2003, and the Randall School, located at Eye and Half streets, SW, closed in December 2004. 

Replacement beds are located at the recently opened New York Avenue, NW shelter (360 beds), and the recently renovated St. Elizabeth’s hospital in Southeast. 

The mayor recently announced that the Gales School, closed last year for safety reasons, will be renovated as a homeless assistance center. However, the Gales School renovation is an ambitious project that probably will not be finished this year, and the Franklin School closing is imminent. That, said housing advocates, could leave a big gap in downtown services to the homeless during the next hypothermia season. 

“It’s really a matter of timing,” said Ferrell. “In the long term, the city will be providing services downtown with the Gales School reopening. But, in the meantime, they should not close Franklin before Gales opens – no matter what the timeline.” 

When asked if the District would give consideration to keeping the Franklin School open while the Gales School gets renovated, Bender said that “the city believes that there are plenty of beds in the system.” 

Patty Fugere of the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless is also concerned about the impact closing Franklin would have on serving the homeless population. “The building is so centrally located,” said Fugere, “that people go to Franklin before going anywhere else. I feel certain that the shelter has saved lives.” 

Chair of D.C.’s Committee on Human Services Adrian Fenty (D-Ward 4) also expressed his concern about all the recent shelter closings and said that the shelter system lacks consistency. “The residents of the District need to know which shelters are going to be open and they need to know if they are going to be open in the future,” he said at a recent committee meeting. 

“If we are going to close them,” Fenty continued, “then we have to have an alternative where homeless people in that area are going to get shelter. And it cannot be a continuation of what seems to be a trend where we are moving homeless shelters further away from the inner part of the city.” 

The Franklin School, however, was never supposed to be a permanent solution according to Lynn French, a senior advisor on homelessness to Mayor Williams. “The agreement for use of the building was considered temporary,” French said. “if it has to be closed, we would rather it be later than sooner.” 

The building, having served as both a school and administrative offices for the District, had been vacant from 1989 until 2003 when the Department of Human Services was allowed to open it as a shelter for the hypothermia season. That same year the D.C Council approved and announced a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the redevelopment of the building.