It has been more than four years
since the 8-year-old went missing. The girl lived with her family at the District’s homeless shelter at the old D.C. General Hospital. The release this month of a photo of her newly imagined face serves as a poignant — and much needed — reminder of just how intolerable conditions are at the shelter. It underscores why Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) is right not to give in to pressure to delay her plans for closing and demolishing the notorious facility.
Advocates are right to be concerned about the families still housed there — 151 as of July 13
, which is down from the nearly 300
that once lived there. But warehousing people in a facility that was always too old and too big and is now literally falling down — “an embarrassment to our city,” Ms. Bowser rightfully said — doesn’t serve their interests. Administration officials said their plans are to relocate the families to stable housing, not another shelter, with the backup option of temporary placement in hotels or motels.
There is no question that the city under this administration (with much credit to human services head Laura Zeilinger) has made strides in addressing family homelessness. It introduced reforms that put the emphasis on preventing homelessness and helping people exit to permanent housing more quickly. The result, according to the annual Point-in-Time count of the homeless, has been a 40 percent decrease
in the number of homeless families over two years. Of course, more must be done, and the D.C. Council is right to insist that the administration provide regular reports on the relocation of families and the status of the new shelters.
Much is still unknown about Relisha, who was last seen March 1, 2014
, with a D.C. General janitor who later killed himself. Where is she? Is she alive or, as has been sadly presumed, dead? Police released the new image of her in the hope of getting some answers. Whether or not they succeed, one thing already known: No child should have to live in a place as dreadful as D.C. General.