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'It doesn't seem right'

When Leshelle Hicks came to Joseph's House, a D.C. hospice for people with HIV/AIDS and other terminal illnesses, her health was failing. Today, she believes the program saved her life.

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By Debbie Cenziper
Monday, October 19, 2009

Alexander Harrington walked into the house "where miracles happen every day" with a single suitcase and $3 to his name, fresh out of prison and determined not to spend another day doped up in dark alleyways.

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At 59, he had been living with HIV for more than a decade. Now, he was four years sober with grandchildren he wanted to see. While visiting a local medical clinic, he had heard about a house of second chances, part of a District-funded AIDS nonprofit group called Miracle Hands Community Development Corp., that provided emergency housing, counseling, job training and help with finding a permanent place to live.

Harrington moved into the house in Northeast Washington in April.

In a bedroom with filthy floors that he shared with three other men, he waited for counseling and job training. He waited for a chance to learn where he might go once his limited stay at the house had ended.

After a few weeks, he caught a bus to the D.C. Health Department's HIV/AIDS Administration to seek services there. He was told he'd get a call back and waited some more.

Then, on a Friday afternoon in May, as men lounged around the steamy house and a single supervisor sat in the dining room, Harrington struggled with the news that it was time to go. He said he left Miracle Hands without job training or a lead on permanent housing.

"It doesn't seem right," he said, packing his suitcase for the streets.

In a city fighting to control a devastating AIDS epidemic, Miracle Hands promised to reach into the poorest pockets of the District, offering a lifeline in African American neighborhoods long overlooked by established AIDS groups.

But the nonprofit group, which became one of the most heavily funded AIDS organizations in the city, has been racked by complaints from city monitors, former clients and other AIDS groups about a lack of services and supplies, missing records and questionable expenses, The Washington Post found.

Twice, monitors suggested the city withhold money to the group. But former HIV/AIDS Administration housing chief Debra Rowe continued to provide steady support to Miracle Hands, which over five years was awarded about $4.5 million, much of it from Rowe's department.

Included was $420,000 in housing funds for a highly anticipated job training center that more than three years later has yet to open. Meanwhile, more than 400 people with HIV or AIDS are on a years-long waiting list for supportive housing.

"It was not a wise decision," HIV/AIDS Administration spokesman Michael Kharfen said of funding the renovation.

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