It’s been over two months since Relisha Rudd was abducted from the DC General Shelter. The person believed to have taken her from her family, Khalil Tatum, has taken his own life, after killing his wife. To this day, Relisha’s whereabouts are unknown.
It’s had an effect on the people living in the shelter. There have been candle-light vigils, and community meetings, and editorials in the papers. But no Relisha.
I met Relisha on Feb 1st, when I was making a fund-raising video for the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project. The video has been helping the Playtime Project raise money for building a playground outside the shelter.
The DC Shelter began as DC General hospital. The hospital closed its door in 2000, and in 2007 it was converted to a shelter for homeless families. So a playground would be a small way to make life a little better for the kids at the shelter. Imagine my surprise when I heard that the DC government didn’t want the playground built.
Currently, the shelter has over 500 children. And the act of play is recognized as essential to a child’s growth and development — emotionally, mentally, and physically. So why in the world would the DC government be against a playground? Especially one they didn’t have to pay for?
The answer: we don’t want these families to get too comfortable.
Too comfortable? At a shelter that’s sandwiched between the city jail and a methadone clinic? It’s not exactly prime real estate. The small rooms that once held patients now hold entire families. There’s filth, vermin, and squalor. It’s an unsafe place to be. One of the kids I filmed told me he didn’t like to smile, it just invited trouble.
Which begs the question, directed at the DC officials who call the shots: have you ever set foot inside the shelter? There’s no way a person would stay there any longer than they had to.
But don’t get too comfortable. Check.
Perhaps because of Relisha’s abduction, last week the DC council voted to allow the playground to be built. Councilmember Tommy Wells said he was disappointed that such a bill would be needed. “It’s embarrassing that the Council has to introduce a bill to allow a free playground to be built at D.C. General,” Wells said.
But the mayor’s office is a different story. They’re concerned about the cost to the district, even though the Playtime Project says it can fully fund the work. The mayor is also concerned about the future of the shelter. After all, it was a temporary solution seven years ago. It should be shut down.
Agreed. But what will replace it? And what about between now and then? I’m sure the Playtime Project folks would be delighted to dismantle the playground they helped to build, once DC licks the problem of homelessness.
And that should happen any day now, right?