Franklin Park to reopen in August
For years, many homeless residents in D.C. lived in Franklin Park, located on K Street NW. Not only were tents a permanent fixture on the park’s grassy lawns, but nonprofits such as Martha’s Table used the park as a base for homeless outreach efforts, delivering meals and other services.
That all changed last June when the National Park Service closed Franklin Park for a yearlong renovation, displacing the unhoused residents who lived there. Now, officials are predicting a reopening in August. Former residents, meanwhile, are wondering whether they’ll have a place in the reconfigured park.
Once the park reopens, it will feature a new restaurant with outdoor seating and restrooms, a children’s play area, a rehabilitated fountain, and updated walking paths. The DowntownDC Business Improvement District (BID) worked alongside the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation and the National Park Service to lead the $18 million project.
It remains unclear, however, how the District’s homeless might be received at the newly refurbished property.
Responding to public questions about how the park will address people “who are not following the rules,” a DowntownDC BID official said at a community meeting last month that the park will have both overnight security and visibly posted rules related to an enforceable code of conduct.
Gerren Price, director of public space operations for the DowntownDC BID, said that the rules will be established through a “collective effort” with advocates and other community members. “We look forward to the opportunity to ensure that this is a space that really everyone can enjoy,” Price said.
Danté Turner, an unsheltered resident who used to get meals at Franklin Park, said that he thinks the redevelopment is intended to drive homeless people away from the area.
[Disclaimer: Turner is a Street Sense Media vendor.]
“When they rebuild it … they want it for people that have jobs or whatever. When they come and take their break, [they can] go out there and eat versus somebody that’s out there in the day [living there],” he said.
Turner also suspects that publicly posted rules at the park will try to deter people who are homeless from setting up encampments.
“‘No camping here, no sleeping here’ — I can just see that coming,” Turner said.
Rachel Rose Hartman, the executive director of the DowntownDC BID’s foundation, said that the project partners thought long and hard about how to minimize the impact on the city’s homeless residents during construction.
“We knew when it closed that we would need a place for individuals to go to during the day,” Hartman said at the May 25 public meeting.
The planning for the park’s renovations began back in 2005, with the project subject to repeated delays related to funding and the design. Hartman said that the Downtown Day Services Center operated by the BID was opened in 2019 with the intention of filling any gap in services when the park closed.
The center is located a couple of blocks away in the basement of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church and offers meals, showers, and other specialized services for the homeless — but it had to move those services outdoors due to COVID-19, limiting its offerings over the past year.
When Franklin Park closed, meal services were similarly moved to nearby Vermont Avenue. Speaking on behalf of the BID and its project partners, Price said at the presentation that these services will continue there.
“We’ve already started the process of engaging a lot of the community-based organizations who have been participating in the Vermont Avenue site,” Price said of the planning for post-construction services in the downtown area.
Daniel Kingery, who lives outdoors in neighboring McPherson Square after having been evicted from nearby Lafayette Square when it was fenced off in response to racial justice protests last summer, said that he responded to the closure of Franklin Park last year as he would respond to anything else.
“It’s an unprepared move — you just find another place to go,” he said.
Kingery, who served in the Marine Corps from 1979 to 1982, said that many of the people who used to live in Franklin Park are still in the vicinity. They continue to access meals and other services offered by Martha’s Table and other providers, he said
“A lot of the people that come here come around here because they used to do a lot of the feeding over there in Franklin Square,” Kingery said of the downtown blocks just north of the White House.
Kingery, who sleeps next to a park sign that says “no camping,” said that he believes the government goes out of its way to make it difficult for people who live outdoors.
“As the government gains more control over the parks and more dislike for the homeless people, they will make it more difficult for a homeless person to spend the night [in a park],” Kingery said.
Abraham Ali, another unsheltered resident who lives in the area, said he used to rely on services offered at Franklin Park when it was open.
But the park’s closure did not really hinder his ability to access nearby meal services.
“Yeah, you going to the other park,” Ali said. “Whenever they closed here, they set up there.”
Ali also said that he has no hard feelings about the park being closed.
“Whatever they have to do to fix it, they have to do to fix it,” he said.
Another public meeting will be held online in July at a date and time that have yet to be determined. The meeting announcement will be made on the BID’s website: https://www.downtowndc.org/franklinpark/
This article was co-published with The DC Line.
Will Schick covers DC government and public affairs through a partnership between Street Sense Media and The DC Line. Year one of this joint position was made possible by the Poynter-Koch Media and Journalism Fellowship, The Nash Foundation, and individual contributors.