21 year-old mother talks about life at DC shelter


Madara Lucas stands outside the shelter with her daughter. (Photo by Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

The sidewalk outside the old D.C. General Hospital was the only free space that 21-year-old  Madara Lucas had to play with her  one-year-old daughter, Samara.

Lucas lives on the third floor of what was once the city’s busiest hospital.  The front doors are papered up so light can’t stream in and many corridors are cold and dark.   Even though reporters,  city officials and authorities have descended on the shelter asking questions about the disappearance of  8-year-old Relisha Rudd, she wonders what will really change when the cameras are gone. Relisha has been missing from the shelter for nearly a month after police say a shelter janitor, Kahlil Tatum, abducted her.

“I feel  like President Obama should be involved in the search for that little girl,” said Lucas who has little hope that city officials really care about the plight of the mothers in the shelter.  “They see us, pass us and it is like they just gave us a place to stay and said we can’t help you anymore.”

Lucas moved to the District from North Carolina when she was 18 and worked hard to earn her G.E.D. diploma. Like many women on Friday she talked about the struggle of living in a six story homeless shelter that many residents say is a temple of fear and uncertainty.

“It is devastating,”   Lucas said. “It is hell in here. The food is nasty. The bathrooms get stopped up, and all they serve is chicken.”

Lucas talked while she held  two plastic toy cars, a pink stroller and her daughter who constantly broke free and sprinted a few yards  down the sidewalk.

“The hardest thing to deal with since this all happened is trusting anybody around my child,” Lucas said.  “There is no personal space. There is no respect.”

One  23-year-old mother , who lives in the shelter, was afraid to give her name. “I have been here for three and half months,” she said. “I feel terrified for my son. If my child would come up missing I  would be out there with the detectives trying to find my child. As a mother you have to watch your children at all times, who your child talk to, what your child do.”

In terms of solutions, Lucas had tough words for the President, Congress and District  officials because even though the city has given them housing, the residents of the shelter get little respect.

“A man walked in my room, I only had on underwear and a tee shirt.  He was supposed to be fixing my cable and he just walked in,” she said.  “We are all in there by ourselves and that is how it is.  The  people in the shelter should be  more of a priority on the section 8 voucher list, they should pulled people out of the shelters.”

Lucas said it is hard making it with only $300 a month.  She said she wants to work and even though the shelter provides day care, she is afraid of leaving her child alone. Many mothers echoed her concerns.  “I can’t  trust somebody with my child as a mother,” Lucas said.

In terms of the future, Lucas said she has found a place and will be leaving the shelter next week and even though things will be tough, she said  “My  daughter gives me hope.  I am not going to give up for her.”

Hamil Harris is currently a multi-platform reporter on the Local Desk of The Washington Post.
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