One by one, neighbors of 3601 Texas Ave. SE rose to express frustration, outrage and anger about the new neighbor on the block, a group home for the mentally retarded.
Officials from the Archdiocese of Washington, the D.C. Association for Retarded Citizens and the District government tried to persuade them that the six mentally retarded women, aged 24 to 66, would not be a threat to their property values or the way of life in their neighborhood.
About 100 residents attended the meeting Saturday at the Ryland Epworth United Methodist Church in Southeast, and most appeared unconvinced.
"We're going to have troops of cars going through here in droves, trying to lure those girls out," one woman predicted. "We want places built for them the mentally retarded so they can be amongst their own, not in our homes."
"A 23-year-old wants her boyfriend there, mentally retarded or not," another woman in the audience complained to the neighbor beside her.
"I am not against the mentally retarded, but don't try to slip something in here like this . . . and then try to convince me it's peanut butter," one resident said to officials.
The man, who said he lives diagonally across from the home, argued, as did others, that his main complaint was that the city did not inform neighbors soon enough that the group home was coming. But asked later what he would have done had he been told sooner, he said he probably would have bought the house to prevent the group home from being established.
The dialogue between residents and officials about the new home, scheduled to be opened soon, is typical of a scene being played out with increasing frequency all over the city.
The District government is under court order to deinstitutionalize residents at Forest Haven, the city's large institution in Laurel for the mentally retarded, and put them into community settings. But no area has welcomed the homes.
Residents in all areas, however, are learning that their distaste for the homes is not enough to stop them.
A recent decision by D.C. Superior Court Judge John F. Doyle strengthened the hand of the District government in its efforts to establish group homes without the approval of neighbors.
In dismissing a suit by neighbors to stop a home at 4012 Lee St. NE, Doyle said the city followed the proper procedures in establishing it, and he added that neighbors' objections were not enough to close the facility.
"If the home here was not placed next to the plaintiffs' home, it would have to be placed next to the residences of fellow citizens of neighborhoods of essentially identical character," Doyle said in his opinion.
Advocates of the retarded said the decision was a significant victory for them, because neighbors now will know they cannot expect the courts to keep group homes away from them.
The six women to go into the Texas Avenue home have been living with their families. However, they need another place to live, because the families can no longer care for them, according to the home's organizers.
D.C. City Council Member H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7), who called Saturday's meeting, said he had tried to prevent the home's establishment but that there was nothing he could do.
But Crawford, calling on the residents to try to make the home work because it could not be stopped, also chastised them mildly for not being more tolerant of people with problems.
He said there were at least 10 people in the room who he knew had had family problems of their own, calling his office to say, for example, "that Junior is in the basement and has gone off on PCP or Lovely" and wanting him to help.
"We have a rapist around here. He has nothing on his door telling us who he is, but he is in our community," Crawford said.
At an earlier meeting on the home, he said, "We were sitting here worried about people in wheelchairs when we had a shootout" in another part of the ward, adding that he hoped the residents would put the same energies into trying to prevent crime that they had in trying to stop the home.