A new D.C. inspector general's report has found the city office tasked with monitoring its 65 homeless shelters failed for three years in a row to conduct required-by-law site visits at the District's largest shelter, part of a "lack of oversight" investigators say might have put the city financially at risk.
The report, released publicly by the Office of the Inspector General this week, also warns that D.C.'s Shelter Monitoring and Quality Assurance is understaffed and lacks the proper policies and procedures to achieve its goals of helping the city's homeless get back on their feet.
Of the seven shelter monitoring reports that inspectors reviewed for 2009, 2010 and 2011, just three shelters were visited in each of the three years. The city's largest shelter, the 1,350-bed Community for Creative Non-Violence, was not visited at all. In addition, inspectors found a "miscommunication" between city agencies on whether the CCNV should receive annual visits at all.
"Consequently, CCNV clients' and employees' health and safety may be at risk and the District may be financially liable," the report said.
It went on to say the "omissions may represent a larger problem," noting that "without proper monitoring mechanisms," the "[Office of Shelter Monitoring] cannot document and track deficiencies and corrective actions and issue sanctions when necessary."
Annual site visits are required by D.C. law and must include inspecting shelters' sanitary conditions and reviewing their success in getting permanent housing for clients. However, the number of shelter monitors employed by the city has shrunk from four to one in recent years.
Since the initial inspector's review of the program this year, the city's Department of Human Services has increased the shelter monitoring staff back to four employees and spokesman Reggie Sanders said Tuesday that "a number of critical issues that were carried over from previous years" have since been resolved.
But the department took issue with another report finding, which recommended requiring a time frame in which key services like housing placement should be provided.
In its response, DHS said it provides case management but specific services like employment and housing are provided by other agencies. That makes it "virtually impossible" for DHS to meet deadlines in providing services that are managed by other agencies.
"DHS does not have the resources to provide intensive services to all [7,000] homeless residents," Sanders said.
Inspector General Charles Willoughby, however, stood by the recommendation, saying in the report that he recognizes "DHS cannot control third parties" but the agency should still strive to handle cases in a timely manner.