Chaos in Congress Heights Over Peaceoholics Youth Home
CLARIFICATION, Thursday 6 p.m.: The Peaceoholics' planned facility is a place where young men will live independently and pay rent, not a "group home," as the headline originally stated.
UPDATE, Sunday 4:20 p.m.: According to Jauhar Abraham and city officials, it is still unclear how the young men will be chosen and paid for. A likely scenario is that they will be referred from Child and Family Services and the Department of Youth Rehabilitation services, at an undetermined rate per night.
It began like the most mundane meeting possible for an ANC in Ward 8: Droning updates from the United Medical Center followed by a lecture on avoiding home foreclosure. A few of assembled at the tennis center on Mississippi Avenue had taken out reading materials.
About an hour in, about a dozen young men and a few women entered, filling in from the back. With them were Ronald Moten and Jauhar Abraham, leaders of the Peaceoholics—the violence-reduction group that has received millions of dollars from the city to support its programs guiding at-risk youth.
They were there to explain their latest project: An old boarded up building at 1300 Congress Street, which they’ve already started renovating into a 13-unit home for young men aged 16-21. The problem was, they didn’t think to tell the neighbors before getting started—ANC Commissioner Sandra Seegars found out when she tracked the building permit. And the building, which the Peaceoholics bought for $400,000 last May, sits within a radius of a few blocks from a House of Ruth, another counseling and transitional housing facility for women, and a planned homeless shelter. According to a worker, construction stopped two days ago, leaving at least 20 people suddenly unemployed.
The atmosphere—already clouded by a bout of squabbling between Seegars and another commissioner over the meeting minutes—was tense. Abraham explained the concept of the independent living facility: Assigning ex-offenders to “life managers” who would help them stick with school or a job, until they became eligible to buy their own units.
“You can’t lock this problem away,” Abraham said, to affirmative nods from some in the audience. “It’s our responsibility.”
Then questions started. Commissioner Melvin Sims wanted to know when the Peaceholics had ever asked the ANC about their plan. Abraham responded that he never had.
“When has the ANC ever contacted the community!” a young woman burst out from the back of the room. “This is why young people don’t come!” Seegars banged her gavel to bring the room to silence.
“Most of the time, when I became politically savvy enough to understand the culture of the ANC, whenever I come to meetings, this is what I experience,” explained Abraham. “Adults fighting with each other. My job is to stop killings in this community.”
Sims pressed Abraham again, this time on the Peaceoholics’ dealings with the city. “I see you went before the council, and they reprimanded you because you couldn’t show what you were doing,” he said.
Last year, the city council questioned the donation of a fire truck and ambulance to the Dominican Republic, and cut the Peaceoholics’ budget dramatically. It was a heavy blow—the Post reported two weeks ago that the Peaceoholics had to lay off 50 staffers and give up their headquarters on Raleigh Place by the end of the month.
But Sims’ charge was too much for Ron Moten, who put down the small child sitting on his lap and walked up to the commissioners’ table.
“Are you serious?” he asked incredulously. “You’re a commissioner, and you would sit here before the public and lie to them? Are you on drugs? You gotta be on drugs.”
Moten’s speech continued, among shouting and more gaveling.
“First of all, let me explain something to you. We stopped killings in your community,” he said. “We the only organization that has the balls to stand up and hold criminals accountable, and give them opportunity. Nobody else in this city would stand up on the ground that we stand on and hold people accountable, because they don’t believe in citizenship. Excuse me for being passionate, but sometimes it’s hard to be normal when people say that.”
The meeting finished out in near chaos with questions from the audience, some skeptical, others supportive. As 9 p.m. arrived, a student in Moten and Abraham’s entourage snapped. “I’m angry now! I’m angry! These are the only men who ever helped me!” she yelled. Seegars adjourned the meeting, but it took another 20 minutes for the crowd to leave the building, as shouting matches erupted all around between supporters and opponents of the home.
“It seems like there’s a lot of anger in the Peaceoholics,” remarked Brian Townes, who lives a block from the group’s building.
A meeting between the Peaceoholics, community members, and city officials will take place on Friday. I’ll be following this story as it develops.