- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2014


When children go missing, a lot of folks out there want to immediately blame the parents, and in the case of a missing homeless girl much of the fallout is no different.

Little Relisha Tenau Rudd has disappeared from the family shelter she lived at in on the rim of Capitol Hill, and venom is being spewed at her mother. It’s too soon to say where her mother stood and will come to stand in all this.

In due time, people. In due time.

Right now, the focus should be on the doggone safety net that gives parents and children a false sense of hope and security.

Relisha and her family had been in that safety net since 2007, and the net keepers were keenly aware of her family’s insufficient circumstances.

As I said in my column on Monday, D.C. leaders need to put city officials and so-called human service advocates on trial on the hot seat.

To that end, council member Jim Graham has decided to take the first step in that direction with a legislative roundtable on Friday that will question the security goings-on at the D.C. General Family Homeless Shelter — Relisha’s “home” that’s situated on the site of an old public hospital.

Two of the people I was told would be testifying are David A. Berns, director of the D.C. Department of Human Services and Sue Marshall, founding executive director of the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness, a public-private partnership.

I’ll get to questions for Mr. Berns momentarily. For now, can we talk about Ms. Marshall?

Mr. Graham bore in on his line of questioning, as he described her and her organization as being responsible for the “background checks” of workers at the shelter where Relisha lived, that her organization “hires the janitors” and “supervises” the janitors.

The man suspected of kidnapping Relisha, Kahlil Tatum, 51, was a janitor at the shelter, posed as Relisha’s “doctor,” is charged with his wife’s killing and reportedly has a felony record.

“This is one that raises very serious questions,” Mr. Graham said. “Young girls and, might I say, little boys are vulnerable. There’s a lot of flirtation going on [in the D.C. General shelter]. We have to be assured that those families are living in a safe environment.

“I want details on background checks,” he said.

Mr. Graham said his line of questioning will in no way jeopardize the health and safety of Relisha, whose disappearance led to search teams combing Kenilworth Aquatic Park on Thursday, a full week after a bungled Amber Alert on the missing girl.

Also scheduled to testify Friday is Mr. Berns, the chief net keeper.

Now it’s fairly clear that the city’s safety net had so many holes that neither more money nor a larger net is the answer.

As Mr. Berns himself has said, what’s called for is “doing the right thing as well as doing things right.”

For humans’ sake.

Relisha fell through the holes in the safety net through no fault of her own.

In her case and in the case of countless others, the grown folk let her down.

The mayor and his deputies. The council and its probers. The school system. Human services. Public safety. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Mr. Graham deserves applause for striking while the iron is hot, and his colleagues should be scheduling similar hearings ASAP.

Keep them all on the hot seat — for humans’ sake.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at [email protected]

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