Residents of the Ward 4 Petworth neighborhood seek to oust a youth detention center set to replace a former post office on 9th Street before it even opens.
Ward 4 Council member Brandon Todd and ANC Commissioner Karen Cooper hosted D.C. Superior Court representatives at Centro Evangelistico Church Thursday evening to discuss the youth probation and pre-adjudication center called the Northwest Balanced and Restorative Justice (BARJ) Drop-in Center.
Officials left many residents disappointed at the conclusion of the first public meeting about the Northwest BARJ center. After voicing concerns about the facility’s potential impact on the burgeoning neighborhood’s safety and status, along with the court’s lack of communication with the public, officials left opponents to the center disappointed by affirming its plans to take over the old post office within the next year.
D.C. Family Court Social Services Division Director Terri Odom apologized, conceding that a community meeting should have been held first.
Decisions about the location of the center were discussed in a closed meeting nearly five years ago pre-dating the election of the current ANC commissioner and Todd.
“What’s the life cycle for this?” asked resident Ileana Speer. “Going forward, how do we ever get rid of this place?”
Speer expressed concern that the facility would damper the progress the neighborhood has made in recent years.
The facility is set to serve about 125 (about 35 on a daily basis) 12- to 18-year-olds who are pretrial, and would otherwise be detained or facing probation revocation. The center will also host an Alternative Suspension Program for youth who have been suspended from school for three to 10 days where they will be provided meals and tutors to complete coursework provided by their schools. It will operate Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. and reduced hours on Saturdays.
Some neighbors agreed, echoing safety concerns and the effect it would have on Upshur Street retailers and restaurants.
“Thirty or 40 rowdy kids, potentially, coming and going during the period when there’s the most classes at the yoga studio, that’s not going to be great,” said Glen Sperling, whose wife owns a yoga studio next to the site. “We are very supportive of what you’re doing. I just wish it were more on Georgia Avenue or somewhere a little more appropriate.”
Officials stated they picked the location based on vacancy, Metro accessibility and square footage.
Currently, there are five BARJ centers throughout the city to service youth and families within close proximity to them. Court officials say Northwest is the only quadrant without one. Its youth must be serviced at the courthouse downtown.
The multifaceted facility being built on 9th Street to house probation officers and support staff is set to serve youth in the Northwest quadrant including those who reside in Wards 1, 3 and 4.
“These are kids are already in your neighborhood. We’re not bringing them in,” said Carol Dalton, presiding judge of D.C. Family Court. “We are making the community safer by having kids who are monitored by multiple probation officers. They are driven in, learning skills, getting food, not out on the street committing crime.”
Odom made note that a majority of the youth being served have not committed serious offenses, but are those who ran away, have been truant or committed small delinquent offenses.
“My first reaction is, I don’t want this in my neighborhood regardless of how great it sounds,” said one long-term resident who requested anonymity. “We have no choice.”
Some residents accepted the center’s fate and looked for volunteer opportunities within the facility.
“If they don’t go here, they’ll hang out in the park on Upshur Street,” said resident Leonardo Dorsett. He said he hoped the center was successful for the sake of the community and would offer support.
A variety of services are set to be offered at the center including nutrition, mentoring, tutoring, life skills, anger management, mental health and drug use and prevention services.