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With New Playground, Children At D.C. General Get Chance To Be Kids Again

The new playground outside the D.C. General homeless shelter.
Homeless Children's Playtime Project
The new playground outside the D.C. General homeless shelter.

Today the hundreds of children living at the D.C. General homeless shelter will get a taste of childhood normalcy: a playground.

D.C. officials are cutting the ribbon on a $450,000 playground outside the shelter this morning, offering children a place to play and engage in supervised activities.

Construction of the playground started in July, after critics of the shelter said that children there had few recreation options.

The playground will be run by the Homeless Children's Playtime Project, a non-profit group that works with children at the shelter. Jamila Larson, the group's executive director, says the playground will be a boon for the children living at D.C. General.

"We know that most of the 600 children who live there at any given time have experienced multiple forms of trauma due to their experience with homelessness and poverty," she says. "We know that access to outdoor play is a birthright of all children in this country, and certainly children who experience trauma need that outlet more than most children."

Larson says the organization has received private funds to hire a playground manager, who will organized activities for the children. "Having daily access to safe outdoor play right outside the door of where they live will be invaluable as a physical, mental and therapeutic outlet for the stress of their daily lives," she says.

The playground opens even as the District has announced that it hopes to close D.C. General by the 2015 winter season, moving families to smaller shelters located throughout the city. Advocates for the homeless say that smaller, neighborhood-based shelters are better for homeless families and offer more opportunities for children.

The plan hinges on the city's ability to find new buildings to use as shelters, and comes as officials estimate that the number of homeless families will increase by 16 percent this winter. D.C. General is expected to again be full by the first hypothermia alert of the winter.

D.C. General became the focus of scrutiny earlier this year after the disappearance of 8-year-old Relisha Rudd, who lived at the shelter with her mother and siblings. Police believe Khalil Tatum, a janitor at D.C. General, took Rudd. He was later found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, while Rudd remains missing.

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