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July 9, 2012                                                                                                          440-204-8284

Trial Begins for Last November’s Occupation of Vacant Franklin School Building

Six Defendants Contest Unlawful Entry Charge for Protesting Lack of Housing for City’s Homeless

WASHINGTON, DCToday, July 9th at 9:30am, trial begins in DC Superior Court (500 Indiana Ave. NW) for six defendants arrested last November as part of an occupation of the vacant, publicly owned Franklin School building at 13th and K Streets NW. The six defendants will have a jury trial and face charges of unlawful entry. If convicted they face up to 180 days in jail and/or a $1000 fine.

On November 19, 2011 a group of DC community members going by the name “Free Franklin” entered and occupied the vacant Franklin School building in downtown Washington, D.C. at 13th and K St NW. Protesting the lack of housing for the city’s homeless, the Free Franklin group intended to use the act of occupation as a means of redistributing public resources to meet community needs. Following a festive and roving puppet cabaret highlighting social movement struggles in DC, Free Franklin unveiled the surprise occupation of the former homeless shelter.

"There's a real crisis of affordable housing and resources for working people in DC, those of us who’ve been here for a long time contributing to the city but now we can’t afford all the new luxury condos and high rents,” says defendant and DC resident Rosa Lozano. “If the city government would rather board-up and sell-off our shelters and schools than use them as they were intended, it's our right to reclaim those public properties and keep them open as community resources."

Community groups have been fighting for the city to re-open the Franklin building as a shelter, but DC officials have ignored all demands thus far, and instead have been trying to sell the building to a private developer to turn it into a boutique hotel.

"I participated in this action because the people of this city can't count on the DC government to be honest with public resources,” says defendant pro se and DC resident Jesse Shultz. “If they can't figure out what's more important, shelter and basic human services or luxury hotels, then it's on the community to reclaim what's ours and provide for ourselves."

The city is currently facing a growing crisis of homelessness (currently over 6,500 homeless individuals) and lack of affordable housing, but the city continues to close shelters and cut funds for needed services, including $7 million cut from homeless services in next year’s budget.

“I hope that the jury will find the defendants not guilty because their actions were morally correct and were done to promote the public good and as a response to unjust policies. Laws that keep public property shuttered instead of being put to use to meet community needs are unjust, and what the defendants did was an attempt to restore justice,” explained supporter Ray Valentine.

Direct action tactics like those employed in the Franklin occupation have been used effectively on numerous occasions in the district. Franklin first became a shelter in 2002 through an occupation by housing activists and was re-opened again in 2003 due to pressure from a second occupation. It remained an emergency shelter for the homeless until 2008. Other shelters, including the Community for Creative Non-violence (CCNV) shelter, were also opened as a result of community action. 

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