D.C. mayor fires shelter operator Families Forward

By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 3, 2010

Families Forward, which managed a crowded family shelter in the District, was fired Friday after allegations of sex between male employees and female residents, and police are considering whether to bring criminal charges against two former employees, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said.

The Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness, which manages the city's contracts with shelter providers, will run the Family Emergency Shelter at the former D.C. General Hospital complex in Southeast Washington until another operator is found.

Families Forward's ouster had been anticipated for a week, but the end came Friday morning when chief executive Ruby King-Gregory was notified that the nonprofit group's $2.5 million contract to manage the family shelter and the New Beginnings transitional shelter in Northwest would end April 30. It was instructed to leave the facility immediately.

Fenty (D) and Department of Human Services Director Clarence H. Carter said they were disturbed that Families Forward had not notified them of the allegations until a resident identified by the initials P.H. e-mailed Fenty directly March 17, saying that she had been propositioned by an employee and that she knew of at least one female resident who had had sex with an employee.

Days later, King-Gregory sent a letter to Fenty confirming that at least two allegations of sex between employees and shelter residents had been made in the first week of March and that two staff members were terminated as a result. King-Gregory said she had no excuse for failing to notify the city, as required in its contract. She declined to comment Friday.

D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles said a city investigation found that women were harassed by shelter personnel, residents did not receive proper services and case managers failed to refer residents to other housing and jobs. The city inspector general reported that "the allegations are serious and should be referred to" D.C. police, Nickles said.

Families Forward sought to cover up the allegations, Carter said. "There was an intent on us not knowing," he said.

Advocates said the city's approach to housing homeless families last winter was full of mistakes. The Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless warned the city last summer that more than 425 homeless families were on a waiting list for shelter, and it was evident that significantly more shelter space was needed than in years past.

Officials increased the family shelter capacity from 75 to 100 rooms for the winter hypothermia season, from Nov. 1 to March 31. As families poured in to escape freezing temperatures and record snowfall, an additional 35 rooms were opened. City law guarantees a bed to any homeless person during the hypothermia season.

The demand overwhelmed the city's supply, as it swelled to 65 families over capacity.

Residents testified Wednesday at a D.C. Council hearing, chaired by Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), that they slept in hallways and common rooms with little privacy among men, women and children. Meanwhile, a 5-week-old girl died under suspicious circumstances at the shelter. Carter said a medical examiner's report listed the cause of death as sudden infant death syndrome, but he declined to release the name of the infant.

Carter defended the city, saying plans for the hypothermia season were insufficient during one of the worst winters in history.

But Legal Clinic Director Patty Mullahy Fugere disagreed. "There was a perfect storm of events," she said, "but there were a lot of indications early on that something was wrong."

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