In the name of Relisha Rudd, shelter residents rally

A "Rally For Respect" was organized by the Washington Interfaith Network on behalf of families at the D.C. General Shelter to demand better living conditions.

WASHINGTON — More than three months after 8-year-old Relisha Rudd was last seen in D.C., there is still no sign of her.

Police think she was taken by Kahlil Tatum, a janitor at the homeless shelter at the former D.C. General Hospital, where she lived. Tatum was found dead of suicide in a park April 1.

A “Rally For Respect” was organized Tuesday night by the Washington Interfaith Network on behalf of families at the shelter to demand better living conditions.

“I’ve had rodents in my room, eating through the ceiling tile,” said Bree, who says she’s been living at the shelter for a year and four months with her two daughters.

“I have footage on my phone of when the water main broke on the sixth floor. The water dripped down the wall in the stairwell. The water dripped down from floor to floor through the elevator like a waterfall.”

Despite all that water flowing through the shelter, she said neither the electricity nor the elevators was shut off.

“No one should have to live like this,” said Ladawn Garris, who’s lived at the shelter for three months. “I don’t care what color, how old (you are), what happened in your life…

“Being in here feels like prison. I don’t have a key to my room. I have bugs. We don’t have some electric in some of our rooms. The food is horrible.”

During the rally a list of demands was read, topped by “No Rats, No Roaches.” Those attending also were urged to sign a petition supporting the network’s agenda on housing and homelessness.

Speaking at the rally, Councilmember Jim Graham said he wants the shelter closed.

“No amount of money is going to make this building appropriate as a family shelter — period,” Graham said.

“This building has to be shut down, but it has to be replaced. And it has to be replaced with quality housing that is suitable for a family. Families need a kitchen. Families need their own bathroom. Families need their sense of privacy and their sense of integrity. This city today is flush with cash. We can do so much better than this because we can afford to do so much better; $1.4 million a month is spent to operate this building, and when will the next Relisha Rudd occur?”

Graham said he’ll introduce legislation to shut down the shelter once new permanent space for the families is found, and he’s hoping progress can be made before winter.

The Rev. Michael Wilker, of the Lutheran Church of the Reformation, says he and several other members of the Washington Interfaith Network met Monday with representatives of The Community Partnership, which operates the shelter.

Wilker says he hoped to use the meeting to share some of of the requests shelter residents had made in recent weeks, but things did not go well. Wilker says The Community Partnership’s Deputy Director, Cornell Chapell, “amazed” him by saying that Relisha Rudd wasn’t abducted or stolen.

“It was shockingly clear to us that they did not want to take responsibility,” Wilker said of The Community Partnership. “They do not want to take responsibility of the people that we, the taxpayers of Washington D.C., are paying them to care for.”

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