Daniel Presley is 65, retired and has lived near the corner of New Jersey Avenue and R Street NW for almost 35 years. Presley shares the Shaw area neighborhood with law-abiding folks and street criminals, but one member of the community especially stands out: a hulking 24-room building next door that was once a halfway house for juveniles. Presley says he used to hear the pitter-patter of misguided youths escaping out its upper-story windows and passing over his roof in the night.
When the building fell vacant a few years ago, he took it upon himself to keep the tiny lawn out front tidy, mowing it whenever he did his own patch of grass. It was a small touch, but it was Presley's way of trying to create a home environment.
In recent years, Presley and his wife had begun to feel that he and his neighbors were gaining on crime, but a few weeks ago the Presleys heard the city wanted to put a halfway house for 30 felons from Lorton in the vacant building.
What followed for Presley and his neighbors was a scene that has repeated itself several times in the District in the past month. It was a scene that pits the interests of homeowners, many of them struggling to make decent lives in hard-scrabble sections of the city, against the larger needs of a society that has to put its homeless, its discharged felons and its new prisons somewhere.
And somewhere, it seems, is usually somebody's neighborhood.
At a Board of Zoning Adjustment meeting last week, Presley and dozens of his neighbors turned out for a hearing in which Larry McCloud, the would-be operator of the halfway house, asked the board for relief from certain zoning requirements including one that limits the number in such facilities to 15. McCloud wants to house 30 felons.. The hearing became a forum for the residents' outrage.
The same could be said for other meetings held across the city recently.
In Anacostia last week, residents shook the rafters of the Anacostia High School in a protest against the federal government's plan to establish a temporary shelter for 600 men east of the Anacostia River.
"Not here!" they shouted.
At a public hearing in the District Building on Monday, a different group of citizens said no to a proposal by the federal and District governments to build a new prison inside the city.
"Not in Ward 8," said one man, while others fell in line to rule out their wards, too.
The ardent protestations of the Presleys, the Anacostians and the antiprison people in many cases are buffered with the sentiment that these institutions are necessary. But such an ideal wilts under the glare of practical concern and "Not here!" is the inevitable refrain.
The consequence, as seen in the District and elsewhere, is political accommodation that results in the warehousing of prisoners and the homeless, sometimes at distances so great they amount to a kind of deportation.
Daniel Presley and his neighbors provide a case in point. Their Shaw neighborhood is the third place Larry McCloud has tried to put his halfway house. Residents' opposition stopped McCloud twice before and there is a good chance it will a third time. The zoning board hasn't ruled in the case yet.
If the halfway house is scotched, D.C. corrections officials will be deprived of a facility that performs two functions: it reintroduces felons to society and acts as a safety valve to relieve the overcrowding in the city's corrections system.
Resistance to new corrections facilities -- halfway houses and prisons alike -- has forced the District to shunt about 2,200 convicted persons to federal prisons scattered all over the country. Ex-offenders returning to the city often come back cold turkey, estranged from society and away from their homes for the length of their term.
In the case of the homeless, efforts to establish small shelters in the city's neighborhoods likewise have met with stiff resistance. The upshot, as many homeless advocates will attest, has been pressure to find a single, large structure that will hold hundreds of homeless persons.
Federal officials, searching for an alternative to the huge Community for Creative Non-Violence shelter at 425 Second St. NW, have had to resort to a large Navy building in a corner of the city far removed from the downtown habitat of the homeless. Even there, neighbors are organizing against it.
In actual practice, then, the most palatable solution to housing the unwanted has been to mass them together as far from the community as possible. In Maryland, corrections officials are demonstrating the principle by building a prison for 1,500 inmates in a damp, but vacant swatch of land on the Eastern Shore.
And so, when the District's appointed prison study commission held its hearing on a new prison this week, it was no big surprise when City Council Chairman David A. Clarke wondered why nobody was considering building another prison at Lorton, over in suburban Virginia.
There's still a lot of land there; it's somebody else's back yard; and it might even relieve the pressure to put a halfway house next door to Daniel Presley.