Weapons, drug use are found in D.C. shelter

Employees failed to properly secure confiscated weapons from homeless men at one of the city’s emergency homeless shelters, the city’s inspector general said in a recent report that also cited other health and safety concerns at the shelter on New York Avenue in Northeast.

The report said employees at the shelter, which has space for 360 men, did not properly lock away knives and other weapons taken from them as they lined up to seek beds for the evening and were searched by security.

Employees also told inspectors they feared for their own safety and said they thought the shelter needed an armed guard. Some residents said drug use is common among residents, with most occurring in an adjacent alleyway.

Field workers observed operations at the shelter from November 2012 through March of this year and said that the findings of “greatest concern” were a shortage of security personnel during the winter months — when the shelter is the most crowded — and a infestation of rodents.

They found that the shelter was largely in good physical condition,” but for a “severe ongoing rodent problem,” with mice running on the desks and floors.

“It’s a party in here’’ for pests, an employee told investigators.

David A. Berns, director of the city’s Department of Human Services, issued a statement through a spokesman saying that the department has worked with the inspector general’s office to “implement corrective actions” since seeing a draft copy of the report.

“Most of the issues addressed in their report have been resolved,” Berns said. “We take these findings very seriously and have enhanced our internal contractual monitoring to help prevent future problems.”

The report is part of an evaluation of conditions at select District homeless shelters at a time when the District has been under fire from some homeless advocates for some of its efforts to deal with a homeless population that has grown 10 percent in the last five years.

“This is a useful report for us because it highlights problems found throughout the system [that are] sometimes worse than what we see here,” said Council Member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), chairman of the city’s committee on human services.

“We’re not committing sufficient resources getting this into shape as it should be,” Graham said.

But he added that the city is making some progress in improving its facilities for the homeless, citing an upgrade recently launched at the John Young women’s shelter in Northwest.

The number of homeless in the city has grown 10 percent since 2009, according to the 2013 “point-in-time” count of the region’s homeless conducted in January by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, although the number of homeless people in the city declined slightly — by 1 percent — this year over last, to 6,865.

In the Washington region, only the District and Loudoun County have seen their homeless populations rise over the last five years.

Annie Gowen is The Post’s India bureau chief and has reported for the Post throughout South Asia and the Middle East.
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