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When he ordered the closing of the D.C. Receiving Home for Children last August, D.C. Superior Court Judge George Mitchell called the facility “unacceptable for a civilized country.” Behind the home’s barbed-wire-crowned fences, children were forced to eat skimpy meals off trays on the floor, using their hands as plates and their fingers as utensils. Overcrowded and crumbling, the 46-year-old red-brick home on Mount Olivet Road NE, which served as a holding tank for kids who were busted overnight or on weekends, also lacked adequate shower facilities and running water in many rooms where kids were housed, D.C. officials now acknowledge.
“Judge Mitchell did something good for the children,” says Joyce Burrell, acting director for youth services at the Department of Human Services. “It was an old dungeon of a building.”
Judge Mitchell should see the home today. Once a dumping ground for the city’s most troubled youths, the home is now playing host to discarded tires, thousands of which have buried its front yard. Whereas Mitchell a year ago called the home “unfit to house animals of a lower level,” today the home’s broken doors and windows beckon the city’s downtrodden. So instead of housing young troublemakers, it houses some of the city’s homeless and drug addicts—and has likely helped fund some of their habits. What remained of the home’s furnishings—from light fixtures to wall-unit air conditioners—has been stripped.
And so has any real hope of restoring the property. Last August, Mitchell gave the city 60 days to recertify the home, but the city never bothered and has abandoned its renovation plans altogether. “We did not want to reopen it in the condition it was in,” Burrell says. Rather, youth services wants to build a new $10-million state-of-the-art detention center on the property. Meanwhile, more than half the kids arrested after hours are sent home—where they presumably have access to plates, utensils, and running water—to await court hearings.—Julie Wakefield