- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 19, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Out of sight, out of mind.

This is about the D.C. safety net.

As best we know, little Relisha Rudd was last seen alive on March 1, 2014. She was seen in a surveillance videotape recorded in a hallway of the Holiday Inn Express off New York Ave. at the Northeast gateway to the city. Holding Relisha’s hand is her suspected abductor, Kahlil Tatum, who later killed himself after her disappearance. No one reportedly has seen her since then.

Relisha’s former home won’t be around much longer, as city officials are scrambling like the dickens to empty her home, a homeless family shelter where Relisha lived and Tatum worked, and raze the shelter facilities. Families still live at the D.C. General shelter, and they still live in a hotel-shelter across the street from where Tatum was caught on tape with Relisha.

City officials basically characterized the case of Relisha Rudd as “falling through the cracks.”

Indeed, that is the eerie sociopolitical conundrum that is not making headlines inside the Beltway, and it’s incredibly striking because, although city leaders had long questioned their own homeless and social service policies, Relisha made them silently question their ethics and morals — albeit fleetingly.

Frustrated. Hurt. Upset. Angry. Those were some of the words city officials used when they learned who and what happened to Relisha, a little girl who was supposed to be in the city’s safety net.

It was after Relisha disappeared that city officials began snapping into action.

Shut down D.C. General? Yes, shut it down was and is the clarion call.

The politics of a solution, however, was that 2014 was a mayoral election year. Muriel Bowser was running against incumbent Vince Gray, and several lawmakers and well-known political wannabes wanted to lay claim to City Hall’s prestigious sixth-floor offices. Ms. Bowser won, and within weeks of taking office pledged to tackle homelessness. “We will end family homelessness in the District by 2018,” Ms. Bowser vowed.

Well, it’s unlikely the mayor will meet her schedule. First of all, her administration spent more time playing footsie with themselves than with her constituents, the voters and homeowners who hired her. Then the cocky administration assumed, wrongheadedly, that the D.C. Council would back her plan.

The council did what Ms. Bowser should have done: listen to constituents, go back to the deliberations table and devise a quasi-reasonable plan to close D.C. General. The lawmakers know the plan won’t end family homelessness, and they are aware that their new plan might not meet the 2018 deadline. But, hey, 2018 was the mayor’s deadline anyway, and 2018 is a mayoral election year, for those of you who believe in coincidences.

After families are out of D.C. General, city officials still face the daunting task of finding homes and/or shelter space for more than 1,400 adults and 1,100 families.

So, D.C. General will likely be razed by decade’s end. Family homelessness? No way.

D.C. officials have turned what was supposed to be a social safety net into a political safety net.

Relisha did not fall through the cracks. The holes D.C. put in the safety net are big enough for politicians to tumble through, however.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at [email protected]


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