Residents in the Washington Highlands section of Ward 8 are up in arms about plans to open a pair of group homes for troubled teenagers.
Seasons Therapeutic Group Homes has leases to a pair of attached three-story townhouses on Valley Avenue, SE to care for 16 teens who are 17 or younger. Each house, one for boys, one for girls, would accommodate eight children. Some think that the group homes’ could increase crime and disrupt what they described as a peaceful residential area.
“That street is so quiet,” said Sandra Seegars, the ANC chairwoman for the neighborhood, who is running against Marion Barry for the Ward 8 city council seat. “They don’t need all of that on that block.”
The project is awaiting city licenses but could open by late February. Seasons has a legal right to place the group homes there.
Ty Johnson, managing partner for Seasons, said that the group homes would house young people who have been truant or posed other severe disciplinary problems for their families. Some of them will likely struggle with mental illness. She said that the homes would also be a place for easing children back into their communities after living in more intensive residential treatment settings across the country.
“We’re trying to encourage positive reintegration into their home communities,” Johnson said in an interview. She added that her company has not yet secured licenses from city agencies to provide services. The homes will be staffed 24 hours a day.
“There’s a tremendous need for group home beds for all ages,” she added.
But several Washington Highlands residents said that they are concerned about bringing in “bad kids.” Other opponents said that the group home’s presence in the neighborhood would be tantamount to bringing commercial industry to the residential community.
“This proposed site will be used for more than a group home; it will be used as a business venture,” wrote Wanda Lockridge a former ANC member and longtime resident of the neighborhood in an email to city officials. “Families did not sign up to live in a business district. And we ask that you don’t make it one.”
This is the second public debate about live-in facilities coming to Ward 8 in as many months. In December, a group of Anacostia residents rallied to oppose a woman’s shelter opening on Good Hope Road. Residents there said their neighborhood was a dumping ground for social service agencies.
Indeed, one of the chief claims of the Washington Highland opponents is that Ward 8 shoulders a disproportionate amount of the city’s group homes. But in 2010, the Post found that Ward 4 contains nearly a quarter of the 338 group homes regulated by the city's social service agencies. Of the 113 group homes serving people with developmental disabilities, 47 of them, or more than 40 percent, are in Ward 4.
The Post report found that Ward 8 had a third of the 77 group homes in the District that house foster children who have not been placed in family homes. Almost 40 percent of the District's 2,100 foster children were from Ward 8 at the time, according to the Child and Family Services Agency.
Johnson said that’s why she is locating to Washington Highlands: many of potential residents are from nearby.
“I’m not bringing children in from Baltimore, she said. “These are our children.”
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