The long, so-far fruitless search for Relisha Rudd, a missing 8-year-old girl who had been living at D.C. General shelter for nearly two years, has drawn new scrutiny of the long-shuttered hospital that serves as a homeless shelter.
Mayor Vincent Gray announced Tuesday he was calling on his administration to develop a plan to shutter the rodent-plagued facility on the eastern fringe of the Capitol Hill neighborhood that housed nearly 1,000 homeless women and children on frigid nights this winter. “I continue to be distressed over the fact that Relisha Rudd remains missing, and my thoughts and prayers remain with her family and loved ones,” Gray said in a statement on the police search that began March 19, when a school counselor inquired about her absence. The last known sighting of the the girl occurred on March 1, and the body of the 51-year-old janitor she is believed to have disappeared with was found in a Northeast D.C. park last week.
“While there is no indication that District government agencies or staff failed to fulfill their duties, I will make sure that the District government responded to the facts of this case in a way that was both appropriate and responsible," Gray continued, promising a thorough review of the District agencies that had contact with the second-grader prior to her abduction.
At Gray's request, Department of Human Services Director David Berns and Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Beatriz Otero will develop a plan to close the D.C. General shelter and provide alternative emergency shelter options for the city's homeless families.
"We must continue to do everything in our power to protect the District’s most vulnerable children,” Gray said.
D.C. General sits on Reservation 13, a 67-acre site that's been targeted for redevelopment. Formerly a 482-bed facility that provided medical and surgical care and substance abuse treatment for D.C. residents, including inmates at the nearby D.C. Jail, the abandoned hospital was at maximum occupancy virtually every night this winter.
In a February interview with CQ Roll Call, Berns said the city was not on track to meet the Gray administration's goal of placing more than 100 families in more stable housing by the end of fiscal 2014. He cited a 30 percent increase in demand for shelter.
Since then, Gray has unveiled a "500 Families, 100 Days" plan to help move homeless families into more stable housing situations. In his State of the District address last month, Gray issued a "call to arms" for help locating apartments for the homeless. On April 1, the DHS launched a collaborative campaign, calling for landlords who currently have available housing units to contact the city.
Gray said in the release that his administration remains committed to the "500 families, 100 days" initiative.
"We must continue to to do everything in our power to protect the District's most vulnerable children."