[Hpn] Protesters Take Over Would-Be D.C. Shelter

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Fri, 15 Jun 2001 10:41:41 -0700


Protesters Take Over Would-Be D.C. Shelter

By Abhi Raghunathan and Sewell Chan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, June 15, 2001; Page B04

A group of housing activists, their faces covered by bandannas, took over an
abandoned firehouse at 438 Massachusetts Ave. NW yesterday to protest the
cancellation of city plans to turn the building into a homeless shelter.

The activists, many of whom have occupied abandoned houses to draw attention
to the lack of affordable housing, said they would not leave until the city
formally agreed to build another shelter.

District officials said they plan to do that. They said the Redevelopment
Land Agency agreed June 7 to transfer a triangular parcel a few blocks
northwest of Union Station to use for a new $3.6 million, 125-bed homeless

The protesters included social workers, members of the group Homes Not
Jails, and women who said they stayed at the Open Door Shelter.

"If we don't do this now, then when will someone take a stand?" a protester
inside the firehouse asked through a two-way radio. She would not give her

The two-story, Italianate brick firehouse, built in 1862, was to have housed
a 50-bed shelter for homeless women now living at Open Door, which contains
126 beds in seven 48-foot trailers parked on a lot at Fourth and L streets

On March 7, two months after renovation work began, city officials issued a
stop-work order. Downtown developers Douglas Jemal and Greg Fazackerly plan
to build 765 luxury apartments on both sides of the structure, and officials
had agreed to sell the firehouse site as part of the redevelopment of the
District's East End.

"They broke their promise to us," said Wanda L. Witter, a resident of Open

Robert Holum, pastor of Luther Place Church in Logan Circle, marched with
women who use a shelter run by his church and defended the group's actions.
"If they're willing to put themselves at risk, it's one way to call
attention to the issue," he said. "It's no more immoral than taking all the
valuable property and giving it to developers."

Eric W. Price, deputy mayor for economic development, said the city has
taken swift action and found an alternative site. He said he was discussing
the best approach to yesterday's takeover with public safety officials.

This month, the city this month proposed using a 7,036-square-foot parcel
bounded by Second and H streets and New Jersey Avenue NW as the site of a
multistory building that would include health and counseling services and be
more extensive than the firehouse -- which sits on 2,085 square feet of land
-- but construction could take years.

Told of the city's plans, protesters said they would insist on a written
guarantee that the new shelter will be built.

 2001 The Washington Post Company

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