The former Franklin Shelter. Photo by Ron Cogswell / flickr

A group of homeless men, displaced from downtown due to the closing of Franklin Shelter last September have filed federal claims in U.S. District Court against Mayor Adrian Fenty, charging that he has violated the Fair Housing Act, the American with Disabilities Act, and the D.C. Human Rights Act.  

In their lawsuit, the former shelter residents say that by closing the 300-bed shelter, the mayor has systematically displaced largely African American homeless people from the downtown area to the poorest and most violent parts of the city, where health care facilities, sources of proper nutrition, and job and counseling opportunities are virtually absent.  

The lawsuit asserts that since Franklin Shelter closed, homeless residents have had to travel far greater distances to remote areas of the city, exposing them to violent situations, and leaving many without much needed services.  

The mayor has not commented on the lawsuit, according to spokeswoman Monique Waters.  

In April, 2008 Fenty and D.C. Department of Human Services Director Clarence Carter announced plans aimed at ending chronic homelessness in the city by providing the indigent with stable housing and services to address their needs, thereby decreasing the need for emergency shelter beds.  

Currently 412 individuals are living in supportive housing, according to city officials. Funds for placements for the coming year have been frozen due to the city’s budget gap. Not all of the 300 former Franklin residents received places in the program, and homeless people routinely arrive at the remaining shelters only to find no beds available, according to the plaintiffs.  

“Instead of trying to sweep these people out of sight of the high-powered law firms and upscale condominiums that occupy downtown and away from the much-needed services, the city is obligated to take steps to assist those least able to obtain the services needed to bring some stability to their lives,” said George Rickman, one of the attorneys working on the lawsuit.”  

“That’s what the federal law requires, and that is why this lawsuit has been filed.”  

The plaintiffs and their advocates say they continue to collect evidence of growing harm to former residents of the shelter, as well as to other homeless persons in the downtown area, since the shelter’s closing.  

They say photographers and videographers have documented men waiting in long lines in the evenings in alleys behind the shelters, in the poorest parts of town, exposing them to even greater potential harm.  

“Mayor Fenty’s main reason for closing Franklin School Shelter is that he was being pressured by the business community to get the homeless out of Downtown – because, they are perceived to be an eyesore,” remarked Eric Sheptock, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.  

“Add to this the fact that most of the $3.8 million that he has raised toward his 2010 mayoral run has come from developers, law firms, and millionaires, and you’ll begin to see that his housing plan is not at all the result of him caring for the homeless?  

Last fall, in an expression of concern about the closing, and inadequate capacity for shelter in the downtown area, the city Council passed the Franklin Shelter Closing Requirements Emergency Act, which required the mayor to provide an accurate assessment of the city’s ability to meet homeless capacity needs prior to the shelter’s closing, and to also provide coterminous services to those in need.  

Fenty closed the shelter on September 26, 2008.  

The homeless men say the closing forced many of the shelter residents to abandon and lose what few possessions they had to their name.  

They say they are still awaiting compensation from the city for their losses from the closing that September morning. So far, the city has refused any claims for compensation for the homeless men’s losses.  

Franklin Shelter plaintiffs are awaiting a ruling from Superior Court on their request to waive their court fees.