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WILLIAMS v. BARRY

May 23, 1980

ANDREW WILLIAMS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
MARION BARRY, Mayor for the District of Columbia and THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: FLANNERY

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This case poses a narrow but difficult issue: whether the District of Columbia government must afford procedural protections before cutting off funds to support shelters for homeless males.

In February, 1978, the District of Columbia government announced that it would open Blair School as an emergency housing center for homeless men. The program was expanded in December 1978 with the opening of Pierce School. Publication of notice in the D.C. Register preceded the opening of both the Blair and Pierce shelters. These facilities each house an average of 115 men each night.

 The District of Columbia also executed a contract with the Gospel Mission. The city pays the mission eight dollars per night for their services. Approximately 60 men sleep at the mission each night.

 The services provided at the Blair and Pierce Schools and the Gospel Mission encompass the most basic necessities of life: a free shower, meal, and a place to sleep.

 In late April, 1980 some of the homeless persons learned that Mayor Barry planned to cut off funding, thereby forcing the closure of the homes, effective May 5. The plaintiffs maintain that the Mayor plans to close the Pierce School, to end the city's contract with the Gospel Mission, and to allow a private charitable organization to take over the Blair School. The Blair facility would then charge a fee for each homeless person who wishes to take advantage of its basic necessities.

 Judge Harold Greene granted a temporary restraining order on Sunday, May 4. This court extended the TRO on May 8, and heard oral argument on the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction on May 21.

 Preliminarily enjoining the District from closing these facilities is appropriate if the plaintiffs can demonstrate: 1) irreparable injury; 2) a favorable balance of the equities; 3) public interest; and 4) likelihood of success on the merits. Virginia Petroleum Jobbers Association v. FPC, 104 U.S. App. D.C. 106, 259 F.2d 921, 925 (D.C. Cir. 1958).

 The D.C. Circuit recently clarified the weight accorded these factors in Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Commission v. Holiday Tours, Inc., 182 U.S. App. D.C. 220, 559 F.2d 841, 843 (D.C. Cir. 1977). The court explicated that when the first three factors are compelling, the likelihood of success need not constitute a mathematical probability:

 
(A) court, when confronted with a case in which the other three factors strongly favor interim relief may exercise its discretion to grant a stay if the movant has made a substantial case on the merits. The court is not required to find that ultimate success by the movant is a mathematical probability, and indeed, as in this case, may grant a stay even though its own approach may be contrary to movant's view of the merits. The necessary "level' or "degree' of possibility of success will vary according to the court's assessment of the other factors.

 In the instant case the level of irreparable injury, the balance of equities, and the public policy strongly favor injunctive relief. The plaintiffs have also demonstrated a likelihood as to success on the merits. The court will therefore grant a preliminary injunction pending a full briefing and hearing on the merits.

 I. IRREPARABLE INJURY

 It is difficult to imagine a situation involving more egregious irreparable injury. The shelters provide indigents with housing, food, and sanitation. Their discontinuance would deprive the plaintiffs of these life support services. Without the shelters, these people will revert to alleys, heating grates, and garbage bins. Accordingly, a cut off of funding will irreparably deny the indigents these human necessities.

 It is clear that a large number of homeless men will irreparably lose these basic necessities if funding is terminated. The Director of the Gospel Mission states that his facility averages 32 vacant beds per night. Declaration of Reverend Lincoln Brooks, Jr., P 9. The Pierce School alone, on a typical night, serves 115 men. Facilities are simply unavailable to shoulder the increased burden should the District close its shelters for homeless men.

 Moreover, the District plan to charge a nominal fee at the Blair School would preclude additional persons from receiving shelter and food. The Mayor's Advisory Commission on the Homeless reported that 46% of the men staying at the city shelters receive no income at all. Affidavits submitted by the plaintiffs confirm this. See, e.g., Bright declaration at P 6. ("I could not stay at Blair if I had to pay."); Williams declaration at P 9 ("I don't have any income."); Brinkley declaration (same).

 The harm to the defendant in granting injunctive relief, while not de minimus, is outweighed by the deprivation to the plaintiffs. It is estimated that the total cost to the city for providing services at the three locations is $ 20,000 per week. It is common knowledge that the District faces a budget crisis. But the savings accrued from closing these facilities would be minimal.

 The record reveals that many of the indigents, if forced to leave the shelters, would resettle at D.C. General Hospital, St. Elizabeth's, and the D.C. jail. It is more costly to maintain persons at these facilities than at the shelters. Hence, it is questionable ...


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