The question is: Should the District open a residential treatment facility for emotionally disturbed children in the heart of rich and powerful Georgetown?
To date, the D.C. Commission on Mental Health Services, the D.C. Council, the National Capital Planning Commission and the D.C. Superior Court have all said "yes."
The D.C. government, under a legal mandate to open group homes in the city, has purchased and begun renovations on the Hurt Home for the Blind at 3050 R St. NW. The plans are to give treatment, shelter and education to some 24 local children, ages 6 to 12, who have been abused, neglected or suffered some other tragedy in their lives. Another 15 children would come to the Hurt Home every day for outpatient treatment and education, returning home to their own families at night. Currently, children who need shelter from abusive or otherwise dysfunctional families must be sent to other states, often as far away as Texas or Florida, to receive residential care -- a move that can render damage of its own to fragile young minds.
But the "rightness" of keeping emotionally disturbed children here to be treated in their own community together with their own families has not stopped members of the Citizens Association of Georgetown from continuing its fight to keep these children out of the neighborhood.
As has been reported in the local press, association members whipped out their checkbooks and hired former senator Mark Andrews in an attempt to sidestep the District government and get Congress to call a halt to this project. Andrews's lobbying has paid off -- so far. Hidden deep within the House version of the appropriations bill for the District are four little lines that put the Hurt Home project on hold until the citizens' association has exhausted all of its legal options, which could take years.
The Senate's version of the District's appropriations bill does not carry the Hurt Home language. The differences between the two bills will be worked out in a House-Senate conference, which could occur at any time.
Members of the Georgetown association have tried to convince anyone who would listen that the Hurt Home is not "economically efficient." The truth is, however, that the District will save money by keeping emotionally disturbed children here in the community. The District government estimates that it will cost taxpayers about $70,000 per year for each child residing in the Hurt Home. This represents quite a savings over out-of-state treatment, which now costs the District as much as $180,000 per year per child. And the city's 1986 Mental Health Services Act requires the District government to establish city-run residential treatment homes.
So stripped of any real economic argument and keeping in mind the legal mandates, it seems clear that the citizens' association members who are fighting the Hurt Home project just don't want poor and emotionally disturbed children living next door.
The Citizens Association of Georgetown has gone to a great deal of trouble and expense to get its way, but the children slated to move into the Hurt Home, most of whom receive some public assistance, have neither the money nor the seasoned advocates to speak for them. As a Georgetown resident (and chairman of the Hurt Home Advisory Board), I want to urge my fellow Washingtonians to "do the right thing" and tell Congress that the District's children with special needs shall not be turned away from this or any other neighborhood.
I know other Georgetown residents are very glad to have this treatment facility coming to their neighborhood. The project is far superior to any other proposal for the use of the property. It is a model project, and there is no better place for it than in Georgetown. I am amazed that members of Congress would devote time to a purely local matter. -- Jeffrey J. Kilpatrick