Colbert I. King was correct when he suggested -- following the senseless murder of Helen Foster-El -- that many unseen layers of human triumph and tragedy lie behind the doors of public housing developments ["The District's Partners in Crime," op-ed, July 3]. To survive, most public housing residents rely on a spirit and faith unknown to many of us, rather than on the kind of advocacy and representation the more fortunate often take for granted.
Peeling back those layers would reveal that a growing number of residents of public housing have escaped the effects of crime, dependency and despair. In the past three years, incidents of violent crime in public housing have decreased by as much as 50 percent.
Count among these emerging residents, for example, the hundreds gainfully employed by the D.C. Housing Authority; 150 residents have been trained and hired in contracts both within and outside the authority; and 80 residents have been trained in the kind of skills that have earned them membership in laborers' unions.
Add to that another 42 residents who have entered skilled construction trade unions such as plumbers, electricians, carpenters and painters. These are in addition to five new resident-owned businesses for management services such as landscaping and maintenance that have contracted with the D.C. Housing Authority.
In perhaps the most stunning turnaround of all, dozens of former gang members, some identified by D.C. Metropolitan Police as among the District's more violent faction, have not only put down weapons and put aside animosities, but have met challenges that neither they nor society thought them capable of meeting.
After more than two years, 21 former gang members have gone through high school diploma or continued education programs, 35 have trained through the Laborers' Joint Training Fund, three have completed cable TV training, one has completed a housing management internship at Catholic University, 15 have been situated in permanent jobs and 55 have completed life skills courses.
All of this has been done in the face of cuts in programs and funds from our primary funding source -- the federal government. That and the continuing lack of effective and long-term advocacy contribute to the layers of tragedy affecting the daily lives of this underrepresented constituency.
For those of us who witness each day this constituency's zest for life, it was not a difficult decision to move beyond the court's mandate -- to upgrade the bricks and mortar in which they live -- and make these additional quality-of-life contributions.
But after this receivership ends -- in approximately one year -- more public housing residents still will be hoping for those in our society with influence to peel back more layers and address what remains of a correctable tragedy.
-- David Gilmore
is the receiver for the D.C. Housing Authority.