The District government plans to move six mentally retarded men into a group home in Northeast Washington next week, a move that neighborhood residents had tried to block.
The Eastland Gardens Civic Association had stopped the opening temporarily by winning a 10-day court restraining order on Oct. 30. But the court order, which was granted because the city had not adequately notified residents of the home's arrival, expired Nov. 9. The residents did not seek an extension.
Instead, residents reached an agreement with the city by which the residents withdrew their motion for an extension in return for an agreement by city officials to meet with residents and answer questions about the operation of the home, a one-story ranch-style house located at 4012 Lee St. NE.
About 50 people along with officials from the D.C. Department of Human Services, which will oversee the home, and representatives of VOCA, the business that will own and run the home, attended that meeting, which was held Nov. 19.
"We didn't get real interaction from the floor between the VOCA Corp. and the community and the Department of Human Services because of the way in which we set it up," said civic association president Frank Hill.
"We tried to do too much in two hours, and then everybody left unhappy," he said.
Dr. Reed Tuckson, administrator for the city's Mental Retardation/Developmental Disabilities Administration, which signed the contract with VOCA, said, "We were very happy to come out to talk to the community."
He added: "The purpose of our coming out to speak to the community is to answer questions they have. But at the initial meeting none of those questions were asked. The residents just voiced their displeasure.
"Unfortunately, the first meeting dealt with emotions, anxiety and anger, and we never got to the substantive issues," he said.
No other meetings are scheduled.
The opposition in Eastland Gardens, a small, sequestered community east of the Anacostia River, is the latest hostile reaction encountered by city officials as they try to comply with a 1978 federal court order that calls for closing Forest Haven, the city's institution for the mentally retarded, by 1987, and for placing most of the residents in group homes. Nearly 400 residents remain at Forest Haven.
Eastland Gardens residents opposed the use of the house as a group home because they said they are fearful that mentally retarded neighbors could harm their children and devalue their property.
Tuckson said the men at the home will be supervised at all times and that VOCA workers will be scheduled around-the-clock in eight-hour shifts.
In preparation for the opening, the six men who will be living there spent the weekend at their new home, then returned to Forest Haven. Monday night a reception was held at the new home for the parents of the men, Tuckson said.
In addition to scheduling the visits, VOCA workers are completing work on a new fence around the back yard and hand railings on the front and back stairs.
This week, Tuckson and Milton Roberts, a VOCA official who will supervise the staff at the home, visited the immediate neighbors of the new home. Two of them, Dalton Howard, 39, an attorney for Neighborhood Legal Services who lives next door to the home, and Ethel White, 54, a Department of Defense employe, who lives across the alley from it, have been among the critics of the new facility.
"What I'm going to do is proceed according to counsel," said Howard. "There's nothing else practically that can be done.
"The main thing is the legal action -- the lawsuit," he added. The civic association's lawsuit is still pending in court, but it does not prevent the city from opening the home.
White said she is worried about the safety of her two young grandchildren who sometimes spend weekends with her. However, she added, "There's not really too much we can do about it, because it's there now."