- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 13, 2014


Every time the mayor and council members discuss the city’s homeless policies, they should think of Relisha Rudd.

For now, the cat’s out of the bag: D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson does not plan to hand committee chairmanships to any of the three newly elected lawmakers.

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Such a prerogative may be his to exercise, but that should not deter lawmakers and the executive branch from formulating and implementing new effective socioeconomic policies.

Homelessness cries out for new direction, especially since lame duck Mayor Vincent C. Gray and three lawmakers who helped create the city’s housing and human services crises — David Catania, Jim Graham and Tommy Wells — will be out the door come Jan. 2, Inauguration Day 2015.

Their replacements are Muriel Bowser, Elissa Silverman, Brianne Nadeau and Charles Allen, respectively, and those first two should be key players on tackling homelessness.

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The first up is Ms. Bowser, chairman of the D.C. Council Committee on Economic Development. Her committee oversight includes the Department of Housing and Community Development, the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, the D.C. Housing Authority, the Housing Finance Agency, Housing Production Trust Fund and the Rental Housing Commission. In short, the city’s landlord.

With Ms. Bowser soon vacating the committee’s lead chair, a new seat opens up. Ms. Silverman, who has written more white papers on housing and poverty than any other incoming lawmaker, is uniquely qualified to sit on the economic development panel.

Speaking of human and social services, the departure of Mr. Wells and Mr. Graham create another opportunity for redress. The Committee on Human Services oversees human needs — regarding the disabled, teen moms, food-starved families and everything in between. This committee is supposed to address the needs that progressives and liberals claim stay in the way of dropouts, ex-felons, young thugs and the like of succeeding in life. If that is indeed the case, then the District’s human service policies have failed. Period.

That’s a crying shame, too, because Mayor Gray has spent so much of his adult life trying to bolster human capacity. Too bad Mr. Graham and Mr. Wells got away with tag-teaming like poverty pimps.

And here’s the rub: Those two knew damn good and well that the homeless services being provided at D.C. General Hospital were subpar. They knew before little Relisha Rudd, the still-missing 8-year-old who was staying there with her mom and siblings, that the shelter was in sad shape.

The Relisha Rudd lesson

Relisha was last seen alive on March 1, but her and her family’s misfortunes trace back to July 2007, when city officials determined abuse at the family home. More problems, some medical related, were found in April 2010. More abuse and neglect problems turned up last November, while the family was staying at D.C. General. Now it seems not a soul knows where that child is.

Lots of problems were found at D.C. General, but what did city officials do? Not try to make families whole. They started moving families into motels in D.C. and the nearby suburbs.

Don’t they know?

You cannot raise kids in a motel.

You cannot feed kids three, square, healthy meals in a motel.

Kids cannot do their homework in a motel.

You cannot achieve peace of mind living in a motel.

Shame on the mayor, his minions and Mr. Wells and Mr. Graham.

Other committees

Ah! The Committee on Transportation and the Environment. This panel is another biggie because it oversees everything related to public works, all things related to transportation and the regulation of moving people and wheeled vehicles — as well, of course, as the air we breathe.

This is the type of committee that can make motorists’ lives miserable and bicyclists feel invincible. The parochial view of this committee needs adjudication by an at-large member who pays attention — before the bike lanes are painted, the traffic signals fall out of sync and before the streetcar lines to nowhere wreak havoc.

Sure, the other council committees have important oversight roles, too. But the three I mentioned touch each stakeholder in the nation’s capital — those we want to interact with and those who, for some politicians, are best out-of-sight, out-of-mind.

It’s a good thing some of them will be out of sight soon.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at [email protected]

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