On April 9, before the Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) quarterly meeting, representatives from D.C.’s homeless community met with Ellen Jones, Director of Infrastructure at DowntownDC BID, to discuss the plan for the redevelopment of Franklin Park within the upcoming year.
Franklin Park, at five acres, is the largest park in downtown D.C. It is located at the heart of a commercial and residential district and is surrounded by Metrorail and Metrobus stops. According to representatives at the meeting, it has also long served as a gathering place for people experiencing homelessness. In the past, volunteer groups have also visited the park to hand out food and hygiene products.
The District plans a full renovation of the park, with plans to add Capital Bikeshare stations, public restrooms, a playground, and a café. This will cost the Mayor’s office $13.9 million, and $750,000 from DowntownDC BID will help to maintain the park, according to a Washington Post report.
At the meeting, representatives expressed concerns that renovations would lead to the displacement of the homeless community that uses the park every day. Some compared the circumstance to the closure of the MLK Library, saying many had difficulty adjusting after it was no longer accessible to the public.
One representative, Michael, who wishes to use only his first name, said that the homeless community wanted benches and useful amenities for the park, not “some statue of a rich man.” He also noted, in the past, benches and tables have been left out during the week for the general public but were taken away on the weekends. “It’s like we’re not good enough to sit in those chairs or use those tables like regular people,” he said.
According to Jones, there have been other meetings where the public has been asked to give recommendations for the new design of the park and the plan is based on this feedback. She said outreach workers from DowntownDC BID were aware of the impending park closure and had been working to notify individuals and organizations, and that the closure’s impacts on volunteers and the homeless had been on the front of DowntownDC BID members’ minds throughout the planning process.
Representatives at the meeting discussed the possibility of putting signs around the park to direct the homeless to other services and to have a comprehensive schedule as to when volunteer organizations could provide services when the park is reopened. Above all, they emphasized the importance of a park that accommodates those who are in the park on the weekends, not just those who visit during the week.