Melissa Young, the grandmother of Relisha Rudd, wears a shirt honoring the missing young girl during the October celebration of what would have been her 11th birthday at the Deanwood Recreation Center. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)
Columnist

You’ve got to admit, we do an excellent job of putting kids last in the nation’s capital.

I am not even talking about the hundreds of teens, regularly drilled in how to hide from an active shooter, who joined a national student walkout Wednesday. They converged on the Mall to beg policymakers to finally do something to keep murderous gunmen out of their schools. But the craven bunch on Capitol Hill are too busy kowtowing to the NRA to do much of anything.

No, this is about the city officials at a hearing down the street who spent the day talking about a massive asbestos removal project that began last month next to the city’s largest family homeless shelter at the former D.C. General Hospital.

There will not be a march for these kids. Heck, there will not even be a shelter when this project is done.

The asbestos abatement, right around the corner from the children’s only playground, happens to be on a building that the city is offering to Amazon for a proposed and much coveted second headquarters.

Of course, city officials swear the Amazon bid (Jeffrey P. Bezos, founder and chief executive of Amazon.com, owns The Washington Post) has absolutely nothing to do with the rush to get rid of the asbestos then get rid of about 250 families — including hundreds of children — living in the shelter.


Exterior of the family homeless shelter, formerly the D.C. General Hospital, in Southeast Washington. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

To be fair, the effort to close the shelter actually predates the effort to lure Amazon to D.C. It was a campaign promise made by D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D). God knows, it is long overdue. The place, situated next to the jail, a methadone treatment clinic and the former morgue, is a total dump, still haunted by the ghost of Relisha Rudd. Relisha was 8 when she disappeared in 2014 in the company of a shelter janitor. Her body has never been found.

The plan to spread the families experiencing homelessness across the city among six smaller, more intimate shelters is humane and reasonable.

But only three of those six planned shelters, which will house about 130 families, will be ready by the end of the year. The other three shelters will not be finished until next summer.

Meanwhile, the city is spending about $80,000 a day — around $20 million to $30 million a year — on motel rooms for families who do not fit into the shelter. That is bound to grow exponentially if D.C. General shuts down before the smaller shelters are ready.

We have been here before.

In 2006, about 130 families were crammed into D.C. Village — an abandoned nursing home near the city’s sewer plant.

It was filled with vermin, and none of the things that made it an inhumane nursing home had changed before it became a family shelter.

It finally closed in 2007, and attorneys at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless said they were thrilled.

“But solving the homelessness problem is not as simple as draining the swamp that is D.C. Village. Homelessness is more like a stream,” warned Sczerina Perot, who ran the clinic.

At the time, Perot told The Washington Post that until more affordable housing was created in Washington’s real estate market, “more people will become homeless every day and will need help from the District government to keep their kids safe and to keep from living in cars and in abandoned buildings.”

Instead of subsidized apartments, most of those families ended up at another abandoned health-care facility — D.C. General.

Why were they moved out of D.C. Village in 2007?

WMATA needed that space as a bus shelter.

Sound familiar?

Unless the smaller shelters are really ready, pushing homeless families out of D.C. General may lead to disaster again.

The kids do not deserve this.

They do not deserve mice and rats. They do not deserve to live with no hot water or fixed address. And they do not deserve to play next door to a jail, a morgue and a methadone clinic.

As usual, I will get scores of comments from people impatient with these family’s situations. They will excoriate single moms, they will explain that D.C. is just too expensive and these families need to move out to the suburbs.

They will say these people all made bad choices.

But it is the kids we need to think of. The kids did not ask for any of this.

Twitter: @petulad