City Desk

Is D.C. General Suitable For Children?

That's the question attorney Matthew Fraidin was tasked with finding out. Fraidin, an associate professor at UDC's David A. Clarke School of Law and visiting professor at Georgetown University, had been tapped by Councilmember Tommy Wells to investigate the conditions at D.C. General's emergency family shelter and figure out if the abandoned hospital was a suitable place for children. Fraidin and his students conducted 10 visits to the shelter during this past summer.

Fraidin testified before the D.C. Council about his findings on Nov. 8 [PDF]. While much if not all of the debate over homeless services has concerned Wells' residency-requirement bill, which is slated for a vote today, the shelter's cruddy, crowded conditions have not gone away. Wells told the Washington Post recently that the D.C. General campus has become a dumping ground.

Fraidin says that after making those 10 visits this past summer, he has come to the conclusion that the city should stop putting families in D.C. General. "There are significant concerns that relate to food, health, safety, privacy and social development. A good communal shelter is a bad place for kids. This particular institution has significant problems," he says in an interview with City Desk.

Fraidin revealed his findings during the November hearing. He stated:

For example, a 10-year old boy, who said he likes school and that his favorite subject is math, expressed worry that there is no place for him to do his homework at D.C. General.  The same little boy said he can’t have his school friends over, because he lives in the shelter, and can’t play with other children who live in the shelter because they always have to be quiet and are not allowed to visit in each other’s rooms.

The mother of two girls said “all of the kids who live here are afraid, and they are suffering.  They have to be quiet all the time, they can’t play in the hallways, but it is not safe to play outside with all the smoking and drinking and prison discharges going on.”

Children and parents pointed out that because there is no outdoor play area, outside play is limited to bare dirt and gravel.

And here's more from Fraidin:

Another parent said “it would be better if they had at least one bathtub on each floor for children that are not old enough to get in the shower.  Right now, residents must wash younger children in the bathroom sinks.”

Many residents said they simply cannot eat the food provided at the shelter.  One woman said she and her daughters all got food poisoning during the first week they lived there.

Many children are kept in the rooms to avoid residents who are smoking, drinking, cursing, fighting, and using drugs.

Numerous people confirmed that elevators are frequently out of service.  One woman told me that she carried her baby – in his stroller — up five flights of stairs.  Her friend said “It’s lucky I was there that time, so I could carry her groceries for her.”  Another woman said a mother and child had been caught in a broken elevator for 30 or 45 minutes.

The mother of three little children said the shelter has mice, flies, and scabies, even though she is “always cleaning.”  Another mother said her “one-year old baby’s hand was caught in a snap trap.”

In one interview, I learned that a family had been separated due to conditions at the shelter.  The heat in the shelter was so severe that one woman brought her child to a grandmother’s house, where the child had been living without her mother.

Scabies? Food poisoning? Broken elevators? Fraidin concluded his testimony with a critique of Wells' homeless legislation. The bill would relax restrictions on the types of shelter options for homeless families. In other words, it could produce more D.C. Generals. Fraidin testified:

Budget pressures are hard to resist in these times. The voices of children and parents at D.C. General, however, make it clear that removing the apartment-style requirement will harm children.  We know that insufficient attention to children’s needs actually costs money in the long run, while costing the children a chance at a productive and happy life.  Many policy questions are susceptible of multiple understandings and a range of reasonable choices.  On this one, however, there is no way to argue that more communal care will be good for children.  The children and parents whom we met speak with one voice, which says that we should move toward closing D.C. General, rather than housing more and more children in institutions.

In the past two years, two infants died at D.C. General. Last year, it became known for its mismanagement and rough conditions (no air condition on certain floors, peeling paint, mold, and food that caused some kids to have to go to a working hospital). On April 2, Mayor Adrian Fenty announced that the shelter's management would be fired.

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  • Rick Mangus

    Jason get a real job more suited to you're tallents like bagging groceries at Target, you no tallent hack!

  • deeceefooodeee

    WTF Rick? What is your problem with THIS particular article?

  • Rick Mangus

    'deeceefooodeee', my problem is with the moron writing this article, he's has no journalistic qualifications or standards, in plain words he is a illegitimate hack!

  • deeceefooodeee

    Well until you start lobbing back some factual (or at least detailed) criticism about Jason - whose reporting I don't particularly love BTW (sorry Jason) - then what good does it do to the rest of us? Why not just email him rather than post it publicly? I serves to help no one - and I would LOVE to be helped if I need to know to avoid Jason and his writing. But thus far you give me no real details to do that with.

  • Rick Mangus

    'deeceefooodeee', I know for a fact that he not a journalist, I have confronted him on this and he has coward away. He is a extremist with bias reporting and then proceeds to criticize those with opposing views from his own. A legitimate journalist worth his or her salt would not do that. Why this paper puts up with him is beyond me and makes me think there are no standards with City Paper. I come her to interact my comments with others as a fellow citizen, not to be feed propaganda by a hack! This is a NEWSpaper not Pravda!

  • mimi

    Dear Rick and deeceefooodeee,

    I am really disheartened to see this exchange. This post raises some serious issues for our fellow DC citizens. They are living in horrible conditions and all you can do is squabble. The bill passed the first reading today 9-3. If this bill becomes law, there will be more shelters like DC General and kids will suffer. Please spend your time on helping people and working constructively on these important issues rather than personally attacking people for no reason.

  • Rick Mangus

    'mimi', I do volunteering with AIDS patients trying to get them health care, so don't lecture me about need and personal responsibility!

  • Tom Howarth

    Thank you for this posting. I testified before the City Council last year after all the mess at DC General. Why does anyone think that good things would happen there. No one should be living at DC General, particularly children. Thanks for paying attention to the needs of people for whom there is no room in the inn.

  • Crackheads4Jesus

    Perhaps people should practice anal sex more or swallow. That way, poor people can have all the freaky sex they want without those pesky pregnancies getting in the way.

  • ak

    once we start saying journalists need to be credentialed we're in a whole lot of trouble. It doesn't take any particular "qualifications" to see that the standards at DC General are abysmal, and this article gets that across in an eye-opening way. A society can be judged by how well it takes care of its youngest and most vulnerable. Despite the efforts of a committed minority who work and advocate for the necessary change, or support it with their dollars, DC gets a failing grade. Think about it: This is how we treat children in the nation's capital -- the capital of the wealthiest country in the world. Doesn't hurt to be reminded of that to put things in perspective.

  • ak

    thanks, crackheads4jesus. you sound very educated.

  • Crackheads4Jesus

    Thank you ak. You sound as educated as I do. Did you also attend Georgetown for undergrad?

  • Ward 6 Resident

    When will people learn that a major part of the problem with housing homeless families at DC General rests with the complete lack of oversight by Ward 6 council member Tommy Wells and his council Comittee on Human Services.

    This roundtable hearing on November 8th concerning DC General and the homeless is Wells' third since the City Paper series on DC General in March 2010. Like all his hearings, Wells will milk it for a little press coverage and he will move on as he plays being a council member chasing trolleys.

    The press, the homeless advocates, and his own Ward 6 community need to hold Wells and his Committee staff responsible. Stop giving him a pass!

  • TheresaUglyDudley

    Like me 'Theresa Dudley' a teacher in Pee Gee Cee these folk at DC General deserve no love, I got fired from Drew-Freeman Middle School in Suitland for teaching dumb stuff to kids. Of course the kids are poor, black and illegitimate like me and so what I do receive my check from another school in Pee Gee County babee.
    I love white cops like Richard Delabrer, of the PG County force on trail for corruption and I will never come to court for Jack or Leslie Johnson, precisely casue theya are black wi the children like me.
    Accountability is shamability and plain fantality.

  • Another Ward 6 resident

    I agree with Tom Howarth, no one should be living at DC General. The problem does not stem from removing the apartment style requirement as stated by Fraidin in the article. There are other emergency shelters that don't have apartment style housing that are clean and safe. No one should be living in a run-down building that hasn't been maintained for years, not children nor adults.