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While many D.C. neighborhoods field proposals for condo developments and strip malls, Southeast’s D.C. Village invites dumps, prisoners, and the homeless.
May it never be said that the administration of Mayor Anthony A. Williams disregards the great traditions of the District of Columbia. Proof comes with the recent news that the mayor has turned D.C. Village, an isolated patch of land in Southeast, into a facility for the homeless.
The move reaffirms a maxim substantiated by a century of history: If you end up at D.C. Village, you know you are going to suffer.
Established in 1906 as a state-of-the-art nursing home called the Home for the Aged and Infirm, D.C. Village had 200 acres of farmland, 80 Holstein cows for delivering “Grade A” milk, 52 employees, and more than 300 residents. The newspapers of the day prophetically called the residents “inmates.” Over the years, the facility decayed to the point of squalor and was dubbed in the press a “poor farm.” It closed in 1996 after years of scandal. Ever since, city officials have been struggling to duplicate the home’s misery on the same site.
•April 1928: A Senate report cites need for a hospital on the grounds. “There is no proper provision for the care of those who become sick.”
•1935: D.C. officials propose a $4 million sewage plant next door to the Home for the Aged.
•January 1940: Eleanor Roosevelt makes a surprise visit to the Home for the Aged. “If this is our conception of how to care for the aged, we are at a pretty low ebb of civilization,” she says.
•October 1941: District Budget Director Walter L. Fowler suggests that it might be better to abandon the “oft-denounced” home and adopt “more modern” methods. Few plans are formulated.
•April 1948: Two visiting congressmen declare “every inch” of the Home for the Aged a “fire hazard.” Residents do not receive adequate meals, and medicines are so scarce that doctors can treat only minor ailments.
•February 1954: The old-age home is renamed D.C. Village to improve its reputation.
•September 1969: The Washington Star reports that a homeless woman has been coaxed off of her Farragut Square park bench and dropped off at D.C. Village. Upon arrival, the woman observes prophetically: “This is nice, but I couldn’t live this far out for anything.”
•March 1981:The Afro-American reports that residents at D.C. Village wear raglike dresses, and that supplies such as toilet paper and hydrogen peroxide often run out.
•1985: A female resident freezes to death outside her dorm and a man suffers fatal burns from a scalding bath at D.C. Village.
•May 1995: The Justice Department finds 37 preventable deaths at the institution, which has begun accepting mentally retarded patients from Forest Haven and mentally ill patients from St. Elizabeths Hospital.
•July 1995: District officials sign a consent decree agreeing to properly nourish the residents, treat their
bedsores, change their diapers in a timely fashion, and provide much-needed supplies.
•August 1995: Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr. announces the closure of D.C. Village without any plan for a transfer of its residents. U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan calls the effort a “disaster.”
•June 1996: Curmet Forte, the last D.C. Village resident, leaves the facility for another nursing home as staff sings “Happy Trails.”
•f1998: The Corrections Corporation of America proposes to build a 1,000-inmate prison on the D.C. Village site.
•fMarch 1999: Seventeen families are removed from the downtown Federal City Shelter, run by the Community for Creative Non-Violence, and taken to D.C. Village.
•fOctober 2000: D.C.’s Solid Waste Transfer Facility Site Selection Advisory Board proposes building a state-of-the-art trash dump at D.C. Village.
•fJune 1999: Deputy Mayor Carolyn Graham proposes closing all of the city’s emergency homeless shelters and shipping the 1,000-plus residents to D.C. Village. After activists and residents decry the plan, Graham backs off, saying that it was just a “kernel” of an idea.
•fDec. 31, 2001: The Washington Post reports that D.C. Village has 50 families and 100 children living on its grounds. CP