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Wells Holds Hearing on Fenty Housing Plan for Homeless

Stefana Washington said living in a $52-a-month storage bend in Northwest Washington was a better life than living in one of the city's emergency shelters, but after four years his frustrations were building to a dangerous level.

"I was either going public or postal," the 36-year-old former homeless man told the D.C. Council's Committee on Human Services during a hearing today.

Washington is one of 400 people now living in a furnished apartment provided by the District of Columbia. He also has a case worker helping provide social services.

Washington was one of several residents who testified before the committee examining the effectiveness of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's "Housing First" program, which is meant to provide permanent housing for the homeless along with the wrap-around social services some need, ranging from employment services to drug counseling.

Several people testified about the joys of finally having a home of their own, and care providers told the committee, chaired by Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), how they have had few problems working with residents.

Linda Kaufman, chief operating officer for Pathways to Housing, said that out of the 76 people they have placed in permanent supportive housing, only one woman has left her apartment. Trinette Hawkins of Catholic Charities and Jean-Michael Giraud, executive director of Community Council for the Homeless, also told success stories.

Other homeless people and advocates, however, told harsh stories about those still in need. Several discussed the need for the city to maintain a downtown shelter. One of the casualties of the mayor's program has been the Franklin Shelter, which was closed this month. The controversial move has ignited heated debate among council members.

Wells, who supports Fenty's plan, reserved most of his firepower for homeless advocates who applauded when D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) said that he planned to introduce a bill to put an emergency shelter downtown now that the Franklin Shelter is closed.

"Why must we have shelter capacity in the middle of downtown?" Wells asked Adam Rocap, director of social services for Miriams Kitchen, who also expressed concerns about the closing of Franklin Shelter. Wells asked if having a shelter downtown more symbolic than necessity.

"Is it a symbol that we must always remember homelessness or is it we will injure homeless people if there is not a shelter downtown?" said Wells, whose comments seemed to energize some of the activist who have been fighting to keep Franklin open.

Some of the most dramatic testimony came from Peter Tucker, of the Committee to Save Franklin Shelter. Tucker criticized Wells for not coming to the shelter when the facility was being closed.

"You wouldn't come five blocks. You are chair of the committee of Human Services or Inhumane services. You don't know where the men are housed. Charles Davis cant be here, he had seizure last night, Luke couldn't be here. He is sleeping in his car. There is no housing first in Washington. There is business first. These are valuable lives they ought to be treated as such."

Steve Thomas, director of the Community Development of Streats, testified that he has heard reports that some of the residents' apartments are infested with roaches and have little furniture.

But Wells wanted proof.

"I am testing the system as much as I can," Wells said. "Everyone needs to know that we are testing the system. We have heard stories but we haven't found one to be proven yet."

-- Hamil R. Harris

By Marcia Davis  |  October 31, 2008; 3:29 PM ET
Categories:  D.C. Council  
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