March 5, 2021
Today, I sent the letter below to DC Council Members Mendelson, Cheh, McDuffie, Pinto, and Bonds who are trying to undermine a shelter for the homeless in Ward 7 and a new halfway house for returning citizens from the Federal Bureau of Prisons. CORE DC has contracted both with the District and the Federal Bureau of Prisons to run a homeless shelter in Ward 7 and a halfway house for returning citizens. The Shelter for the Homeless is up and running and the people it serves seem satisfied with the CORE DC's management. Separately, CORE DC has contracted with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to manage a halfway house for returning citizens in Ward 7. The halfway house has yet to be built and Councilman Gray is trying his best to prevent it from being built. To that end he persuaded Council Members Mendelson, Cheh, McDuffie, Pinto, and Bonds to sign a resolution withholding permission from the contractor to build the halfway house. This is another example of our leaders saying they want to support the poor and those who are returning prison but then do the opposite. Here is the letter I sent to the five Council Members.
Dear Council Members Mendelson, Cheh, McDuffie, Pinto, and Bonds:
As the Director of an organization which believes that we all have a responsibility to offer support and guidance to those who have fallen on difficult times, I am deeply troubled to hear that you are supporting an effort among your colleagues on the city council that could result in a disruption to emergency shelter and vital social services for dozens of families experiencing homelessness at a time of unprecedented uncertainty and economic hardship. I am referring to the resolution you have signed along with five other Council Members that aims to terminate the current service provider’s contract to run the short-term housing program at The Horizon in Ward 7.
As you may know, The Horizon is part of Mayor Bowser’s bold plan to establish dignified, service-enriched programs across all eight wards – a centerpiece of her agenda. At The Horizon’s opening in October 2018, Mayor Bowser said, “With these new short-term family housing programs, we are providing a chance for our families to rebuild their circumstance as they continue to contribute to our greater DC community.”
By all accounts, the existing provider operating The Horizon, CORE DC, has been an ideal partner to the community in making that vision a reality. In fact, it is our understanding that CORE DC was selected to lead a similar short-term housing program in the District, which opened in July of 2020, as well as another DHS program for returning citizens.
At The Horizon, CORE DC provides 35 families experiencing homelessness with safe emergency shelter, case management, and community-based support programs to help them achieve stable and permanent housing. The site also includes computer labs for the residents, outdoor playground and recreational space, age-appropriate indoor recreation space, a homework and a study lounge for residents. Residents of The Horizon are predominantly Black and Brown, and CORE DC’s staff reflects the populations it serves, which is a critical component of building trust.
The effort to dismantle this program is troubling enough on its own. But it is even worse in light of the fact that CORE DC is planning to open
another facility in Ward 7, a residential reentry center for returning citizens.
In short, it appears that you have joined this ill-advised campaign to oppose CORE DC’s operation of The Horizon to pressure CORE DC to abandon its entirely unrelated plans for a residential reentry center. It seems that what you are doing amounts to legislative blackmail. We hope that this is not the case.
The residential reentry center in question would be the city’s only support program for men returning from prison. And such a facility is desperately needed. In fact, this was a top priority included in recent recommendations published by returning citizens and advocates who were part of the District Task Force on Jails & Justice in partnership with the Vera Institute of Justice and the National Reentry Network of Returning Citizens.
Thus far, the reasons for your opposition are far from clear and, frankly, baffling to many of us. CORE DC’s strong record in the District is well known. What could be the justification to suddenly terminate the organization’s contract? Moreover, this eleventh-hour effort to generate opposition to the reentry center project raises many questions.
CORE DC has sought to answer important community questions and address seemingly contrived issues like the effort to petition the Historic Preservation Review Board to designate 3701 Benning Rd. NE as a historic landmark and, therefore, unusable to CORE DC. Not surprisingly, the Historic Preservation Review Board categorically rejected the petition to designate historic status to this plot of land, on which there once stood a crumbling slaughterhouse that caused environmental concerns among the community.
I want to be clear: the effort you have joined has homeless families with newborns and young children concerned about fate of the program they depend on day in and day out. They are being left to wonder whether their lives will be uprooted. Additionally, this political maneuver jeopardizes The Horizon’s staff, who have worked on the front lines amid the ongoing public health crisis to ensure continuity of care.
We respectfully ask you to, at a minimum, explain your motivations for your disapproval resolution. Beyond that, we request that you consider withdrawing your support for this resolution, which would ultimately damage the District’s momentum towards providing better social services to its most vulnerable residents.
Rabbi Charles Feinberg