INEVITABLY there has been much derision of the resistance being mounted by certain Cleveland Park/Woodley Park residents to the establishment of a halfway house in their neighborhood for some mentally retarded women. The neighborhood, after all, is famous for housing any number of well-to-do liberal organizers of other people's lives: lords and ladies bountiful, it is said, whose bounty seems always to be at someone else's expense, social critics who fight regressiveness wherever they find it, except when they find it at home. That is the theory and impression anyway. Judging from what we have seen of the resistance movement, some part of it at least is warranted.
How about the criticism of the city and the sponsors of this home for not briefing, consulting and reassuring the neighbors in advance? We think that's warranted criticism, too. It was just plain dumb to do this thing in a way that was all but guaranteed to encourage crazy rumors and suspicions and fears. People--even those who affect the greatest degree of social enlightenment--can pretty much be counted on to harbor prejudices and misplaced anxieties about mental retardation; and it was foolish to suppose that this particular neighborhood was immune, would react to the news of a halfway house any more rationally than another would. They needed to be informed of the number and nature of the prospective tenants and the conditions under which the establishment would be maintained. Now, much pain and embarrassment later, this evidently is being done.
It is important to point out that the individuals who are scheduled to move into the home in no respect justify the outcry. We are not talking here about murderers, footpads and thieves. We are not even talking about persons--drug addicts on the mend, juvenile trouble-makers--who can benefit greatly from being moved to this kind of semi-institutional setting and whose introduction to a neighborhood invariably arouses great fear and opposition. These are women who work and converse and who want to live in a more suitable home than St. Elizabeths or any other large institution could ever provide.
One was on television the other night. She was expressing exemplary patience with and understanding of the anxiety and anger being aired in Cleveland Park/Woodley Park about the arrival of herself and her companions. She said she only wished she could meet the neighbors to reassure them that there was no danger here. It broke your heart--the woman seemed so much more benign and mature, even neighborly, than some of the more violent opponents of the move. The city should do its explaining-consulting fast--and then get on with moving day.