Staff at D.C. family shelter faces allegations of sexual misconduct

By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 27, 2010

Families Forward, the contractor in charge of the troubled family shelter at the former D.C. General Hospital complex, will probably be fired next week after allegations that several employees of the nonprofit agency solicited and had sex with female residents, a D.C. Council member said Friday.

Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) said D.C. Department of Human Services Director Clarence H. Carter had assured him that the contract will be terminated when the emergency hypothermia season for homeless people ends Wednesday.

Wells said numerous residents had made allegations of sexual misconduct by workers at the shelter in Southeast Washington. Families Forward has acknowledged firing about five workers as a result of the complaints, but it failed to notify DHS of what had occurred, he said.

Neither DHS nor Family Forward officials have responded to telephone calls and e-mails seeking comment. A spokeswoman for Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) said the attorney general's office is investigating the matter.

Carter will be questioned about the issue Wednesday when he appears before Wells at a hearing on the city's performance during the hypothermia season, Wells said.

"To have predators as part of the staff, or in there at all, can't be tolerated," said Wells, chairman of the council's Human Services Committee, which has oversight of homeless services outreach. ". . . I've been assured that there will be a change in contractors."

Wells said DHS officials told him that Families First conducted the firings without contacting the department. "The fact that they did not tell DHS what happened compounds whatever happened," Wells said. "They should have reported it."

According to the Washington City Paper, which first reported the allegations, Families Forward chief executive Ruby King-Gregory acknowledged the misconduct in a letter to Fenty. "Perhaps most sickening, it is true that there have been alleged inappropriate contact between staff and the female residents," King-Gregory wrote, according to the report. "When Families Forward was made aware of this concern, an investigation was conducted and the staff persons in question were swiftly terminated."

Families Forward has a $2.9 million contract to operate the Family Emergency Shelter on the D.C. General campus and the New Beginnings emergency transition shelter on Park Road NW, according to the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness, which manages the city's contracts with shelter.

The family shelter came under scrutiny in recent weeks when 200 families were jammed into space meant for 135 and residents complained of sleeping in hallways and common rooms and getting sick because of mildew.

Allegations of sexual misconduct started to come to light March 15 when a woman who identified herself only by the initials P.H. sent an e-mail to Fenty's office complaining of her experiences at D.C. General. The woman said she and her three daughters arrived at the shelter Jan. 27 and "had to sleep on semi-inflated air mattresses, on the floor, and we had to lie in the middle of the floor as if we were 3rd world refugees."

The woman wrote that early this month, she rebuffed the advances of a Families Forward employee who invited her to a club and said she could stay overnight at his home. Other men on the staff offered small favors in exchange for sex with homeless female residents, she said in the e-mail.

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