Even as an online petition to stop a halfway house from opening in Ward 7 continues to circulate, an elected official who has railed against the project recently expressed a willingness to engage residents with varying perspectives.
In a post-Father’s Day letter to the Ward 7 community, ANC Commission Chair Tyrell M. Holcomb acknowledged his incarcerated father and older brother before proposing a virtual town where participants would weigh in, not only regarding the proposed location of the residential reentry facility but also the surrounding conditions he said would be of detriment to the 300 men living there.
“I cannot see us saying that we want to ensure our returning citizens are successful, and have them in the middle of Minnesota Avenue around the increased gun violence and mental health issues,” Holcomb (ANC 74) told The Informer as he explained why he thought the location at 3701 Benning Road NE, formerly known as the Bald Eagle, wouldn’t be ideal for a halfway house.
While the date for Holcomb’s town hall hasn’t been determined, he expressed a desire to see Ward 7 residents and CORE DC LLC coalesce around a proposal that places returning citizens in an area where they can thrive professionally and educationally.
“I’m hoping to have CORE DC LLC be a part of these conversations, and hear about their plans as it relates to our returning citizens, and have a real conversation about our entire city’s responsibility to accept them,” Holcomb added. “We have to think about what that looks like. It shouldn’t be frowned upon if they go elsewhere in the city.”
Two weeks ago, not long after the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOE) awarded a five-year, $60 million contract to CORE DC LLC — a provider of services for individuals and families — Holcomb and the other commissioners of ANC 7F released a statement in opposition to the move, saying that it threatened the possibility of economic viability along Benning Road and Minnesota Avenue.
Their sentiments echoed that of Ward 7 Council member Vincent C. Gray (D), who reportedly described the FBOE contract as another instance of federal encroachment on local matters. Earlier this year, his office attempted to dissuade officials from considering 3701 Benning Road NE. A new 300-bed halfway house has since been scheduled to open at that location in early October as a replacement for Hope Village, a facility on Langston Street in Southeast that has garnered a reputation for subpar living conditions and poor treatment of residents by staff members.
In April, two Hope Village residents filed a class-action lawsuit against Hope Village, FBOE, and the D.C. Department of Corrections alleging that officials didn’t act diligently in preventing the spread of the coronavirus. This happened shortly after two non-coronavirus-related deaths compelled Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) to visit the facility, the contract for which had been extended amid a failed attempt to relocate to 3400 New York Avenue NE.
In 2018, Ward 5 Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D) and Ward 5 ANC commissioners successfully countered the transfer to 3400 New York Avenue NE. Years later, Lewis Tait Jr., Ward 7 clergyman and residential reentry center proponent, said Douglas Jamel, owner of 3400 New York Avenue NE, was never held responsible for reneging on his decision to lease his space to CORE DC LLC.
Jamel’s gesture, Tait said, showed little regard for returning citizens. As the Ward 7 community faces pressure similar to what Ward 5 residents and officials endured, Tait said that a virtual town hall, when done correctly, could provide the opportunity for all involved to find common ground and get answers to their most pressing questions.
“It would be productive and not where people point fingers. Let’s talk about how we can work with CORE DC and how what they did in New York City would look in D.C.,” said Tait, senior pastor of The Village Church in Southeast. “What kind of job development would come about because of this residential reentry center? How can we as a community focus on returning citizens? If this is not the ideal way to get things done, how do we effectively get the reentry programs?”