In mid-February, reporter Ayesha Morris called me to talk about the fight in Adams Morgan to prevent the reopening of a halfway house for adult male felons directly across the street from the John Quincy Adams Elementary School. I returned Morris’ call on the same day and left a voice mail, but never heard back. Thus, I was disappointed to find that her paean to halfway houses in the District (“Squeeze Play,” 3/2) conveniently omitted any neighbor’s perspective on the particular halfway house or contractor in question.
Perhaps Morris decided not to return my call because a neighbor’s perspective might have conflicted with what appeared to be her preconceived premise: that those who opposed the halfway house were just a bunch of affluent and well-connected white NIMBYs. Had I been given a real opportunity to comment, I would have made the following points:
First, 2019 19th St. NW was not simply “shuttered by fire last year,” as Morris blandly reported. It was set afire by one of its residents while it operated as a juvenile halfway house. This was only the final scene in a multiact play characterized by the contractor’s poor management, lack of resident supervision, and inability or unwillingness to control its residents’ criminal conduct, as well as their otherwise inappropriate, harassing, or threatening behavior.
Second, to bolster her premise that neighborhood opponents and Adams School parents have little to fear from this rogue operation, Morris quotes “halfway-house supporter Marie Sennett, who,” she reports, “lives just blocks [away].” But Morris fails to disclose that Sennett is an attorney representing a prisoner-advocacy group. Moreover, Sennett does not live in the immediate vicinity of the facility. If she did, she might not dismiss the misbehavior of former residents as “nothing more than snowball throwing and occasional catcalls.” Putting aside what that alone says about the lack of contractor supervision, her characterization of the situation is simply wrong. First-person reports of drug dealing, drug deliveries, shots fired, indecent exposure, curfew violations, assault, trespassing, and more gave us ample reason to oppose any facility operated by this outfitcleverly named the Bureau of Rehabilitation Inc.much less one located across the street from a school with pre-kindergarteners as young as 3 years old.
Third, Sennett seems to believe that because few of the residents who live around Adams have children there, we don’t really care about the school and its students, the overwhelming majority of whom are African-American and Hispanic. In a city whose school system and students desperately need the help and support of every resident, whether we have children or not, I’m sure Superintendent Vance and the Board of Education would take issue with Sennett’s narrow view. More to the point, however, our community has a close, longstanding tie to Adams, which together with the now-closed Morgan School gave its very name to the neighborhood. It’s not surprising that an attorney for prisoners would express more concern for her clients than for defenseless kids. But fortunately for the kids, the rest of us don’t have to.
Finally, I actually appreciated Jason Ziedenberg’s sarcastic closing comment from the ivory tower in which he sits, the Justice Policy Institute. “[M]aybe we should call on the attorney general to close all the halfway houses in D.C. near schoolsnot just those in relatively prosperous and well-connected neighborhoods,” he says. Indeed! That’s why D.C. Councilmember Jim Graham introduced legislation to prohibit halfway houses within 500 feet of a school. In the several weeks this controversy was brewing, however, no one has cited to us another example in D.C. of a criminal halfway house located directly across the street from one. And if BRI hadn’t operated the 19th Street facility so poorly that a resident could set it ablaze, perhaps we wouldn’t have known about this one, either.
Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner