“Why hasn’t the committee been informed about this? I’m dismayed that this has not been brought to our attention.” That’s D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), speaking at last month’s Committee on Human Services hearing into poor living conditions at the D.C. General homeless shelter.

Graham gave a repeat performance last week when he called a committee hearing to look into safety procedures at the shelter in the wake of 8-year-old Relisha Rudd’s disappearance. To hear Graham, one might conclude that the D.C. General shelter, its 285 families including more than 500 children, may as well be located on the other side of the moon.

“Why hasn’t the committee been informed about this?” What an asinine question.

That is what an oversight committee is for. Get out of that ivory tower in the John A. Wilson Building and see for yourself, Jim Graham.

If the committee chairman had lowered himself to set foot in D.C. General, he would have learned firsthand that homeless residents have been without heat and hot water during the hypothermia season. He would have known that there was no ventilation in some of the rooms and that pests infiltrate the place, including the human kind.

If the chairman had bothered to talk with the mothers who live there, he would have found out — as did Washington Post reporters — that the rules that prohibit social interaction between shelter employees and residents are regularly flouted. He would have been alerted that one of the shelter’s janitors, 51-year-old Kahlil Malik Tatum, offered money to their daughters in plain view of other shelter staff. Tatum, charged with killing his wife and abducting Relisha, was all over the place handing out goodies to little girls.

A closer look by the council might have told us a little something about the management of the shelter by the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness, a nonprofit that pulls in $13 million a year from city taxpayers to operate homeless facilities.

Ah, but nobody — not the mayor, not the Department of Human Services director David Berns, not any of the hundreds of workers at the facility — bothered to bring any of that stuff to Mr. Graham’s attention. Boo-Hoo.

What’s a committee chairman to do?


Colbert I. “Colby” King writes a column -- sometimes about D.C., sometimes about politics -- on that runs on Saturdays. In 2003, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. King joined the Post’s editorial board in 1990 and served as deputy editorial page editor from 2000 to 2007.