A Sept. 18 "Update" item in the Metro section gave the wrong name for the D.C. government agency that took custody of the son of David and Michelle McCullough, a homeless couple. The D.C. Child and Family Services Agency took custody of the child. (Published 9/22/2005)

The McCulloughs were homeless and in a bad way in February when they called the District's 24-hour emergency hotline seeking a warm place to sleep. Turned away, they ended up on a cold sidewalk near Union Station, begging for money for a hotel room.

City officials later apologized, saying the hotline worker violated the law by denying the family shelter on a night when a hypothermia alert had been declared. David McCullough, his wife, Michelle, and their son, Matthew, 11, were given temporary shelter for seven days but weren't sure where they would go after that.

Today, life remains as precarious as ever for David and Michelle McCullough. And because of this, they have lost custody of Matthew.

The D.C. Family Services Administration took temporary custody in July. The boy, now living with a foster family, had missed months of school and spent his days on the street while his parents panhandled to get money for food and shelter.

"They took our kid while we were in a shelter at D.C. Village," David McCullough, 39, said last week."I had taken him out of school because he got beat up there. He came home bleeding out of his ear."

Michelle McCullough, 38, said she tried but was unable to transfer Matthew to another school. She said she and her husband visit the boy twice a week and hope to get him back when they have a permanent home.

The McCulloughs moved to the District from Florida last summer to petition for Social Security benefits after David McCullough injured his back in a car accident. Michelle McCullough also has disabilities that make it hard for her to stand for very long. For now, they are living in a hotel room in Alexandria, where the rent has been paid through mid-October by a woman who read about their plight last winter.

Marta I. Beresin, staff attorney for the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, said the McCulloughs' situation illustrates the shortcomings of the social services system.

"When you're camping out some nights and moving from shelter to shelter, without basic things like housing and food and medical care, it's hard to keep your child in school," she said. "The system should have given them more help."

The McCulloughs had been on a waiting list to receive the next available subsidized family-style apartment. But without Matthew, they no longer are eligible for a family unit. That, in turn, complicates efforts to regain custody.

"They need to stabilize their housing to ever have hope of getting him back," Beresin said.

The McCulloughs bring in some money by selling copies of Street Sense, the newspaper produced in support of the homeless. David McCullough takes some comfort that he is no longer panhandling.

"I sold 200 papers in the last week," he said.

-- Karlyn Barker

Michelle, David and Matthew McCullough, 11, resorted to panhandling outside Union Station in February. Michelle and David McCullough have since lost custody of Matthew.