The District's New York Avenue homeless shelter lacks proper security to protect those staying there from violent crime, and invites potential tragedy by leaving confiscated weapons in a faulty lock box, according to a report by the city's inspector general.

The review concluded that the homeless shelter needed to increase the number of security personnel on hand in the coldest months, when more homeless men come to the shelter.

And, the IG's report found that some shelter employees felt unsafe because security personnel were not armed with guns, only pepper spray, night sticks and handcuffs.

"[One] employee stated that clients may be less inclined to challenge a security guard's authority if they know that the guard not only has arrest powers, but also is armed," the report reads.

Troubled history
The new report out of the inspector general's office on the New York Avenue Men's Emergency Shelter follows two other reports, from August 2012, conducted by the office on homeless shelters.
Those inquiries were accompanied by an analysis that cautioned that the city was not able to properly monitor homeless shelters in the District. It found that "[the Office of Shelter Monitoring] did not conduct all required monitoring visits in 2009, 2010, and 2011."
This new report follows the trend of the inspector general's office stepping in to fill the void.
In a statement, a spokeswoman for that office wrote: "Depending on available resources and priorities imposed by ongoing inspection projects, the office will continue to engage inspected agencies through various follow-up activities, such as requests for written updates and documentation, in-person interviews, and on-site observations, until this office considers all recommendations 'closed.' "

While the guards are not armed at the New York Avenue Men's Emergency Shelter, many of the homeless do arrive bearing weapons.

Investigators discovered that confiscated weapons -- held on-site until they could be disposed -- weren't properly secured. While a combination lock kept one side of the weapon storage container shut, the other side simply "popped" open, according to the report, "rendering the combination lock useless."

The inspectors reported their concerns to officials in February. By March, a new bin was in place, but inspectors noted that the key was placed on a nearby wall with a note that read "New York Avenue Security Locker Key Only."

Investigators also believed that security personnel did not consistently conduct thorough searches before clients entered the premises.

The report says employees and homeless clients generally believed the shelter was a "relatively safe environment."

But during winter months, crimes at the homeless shelter tick upward.

For example, in September and October 2012, there were 11 assaults, 11 thefts and 11 cases of misconduct. Over the next two colder months, there were 14 assaults, 15 thefts and 19 cases of misconduct.

Informed of the report's findings, D.C. Councilman Jim Graham, who closely monitors homeless issues as chairman of the Committee on Human Services, said it "doesn't sound like the security measures are up to what they should be."

"It's critical in a shelter such as New York Avenue that if we're confiscating or holding weapons, that they be properly secured," said Graham.

But Graham did not want to see the guards at the shelter armed. "I think that would be a terrible mistake," he said. "The guns can get in somebody else's hands in a moment of anger and a moment of passion."

Councilman Kenyan McDuffie, whose Ward 5 contains the shelter, was also concerned by what the inspector general found. "We should do everything humanly possible to ensure that these shelters are safe and that they're sanitary," said McDuffie.

The shelter, located at 1355 New York Ave. NE, has a maximum capacity of about 385 homeless persons and has 31 employees.

Calls to the director of the New York Avenue Men's Emergency Shelter were not returned Tuesday.

In a statement, a spokesman for the D.C. Department of Human Services wrote: "We are currently reviewing the report's findings and will work closely with the Office of the Inspector General to make any corrections necessary."