The Washington Post

D.C. shelter for 1,000 homeless doesn’t have a functioning fire alarm system

The District’s largest homeless shelter has failed its most recent fire inspection, according to a report made public Thursday.

Inspectors found numerous problems this week at the shelter in the 400 block of Second Street NW. The facility is managed by the Community for Creative ­Non-Violence (CCNV). Inspectors could find no records showing that the shelter had tested its fire system. Fire alarms did not appear to be working, the report said, and the sprinkler heads throughout the shelter “need repair, service and/or replacement.”

The lack of safeguards could be hazardous for the facility, ­D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) said. More than 1,000 single adults live at the shelter, making it one of the largest in the country. Three out of five residents are on disability; more than 40 percent of the residents are 52 or older.

Graham said the failed inspection is just a symptom of a larger problem at the shelter. Conditions there are “deplorable,” he said. Graham said that residents have told him there often is no hot water, and he has seen signs of asbestos.

“We have to respond to the emergency hazards and to make sure the fire hazards are taken care of right away,” Graham said. Rico Harris, executive director of the shelter, did not return a phone call and an e-mail seeking comment.

A city task force was established in 2013 to examine conditions at the CCNV shelter. It is expected to release recommendations soon. Graham said he would prefer to tear the place down and find new housing alternatives on the sprawling property, blocks away from the Judiciary Square Metro station.

His suggestion is similar to his recommended course of action for the former D.C. General Hospital, which now houses a homeless shelter for 300 families. Graham crafted legislation to shut down D.C. General, which he plans to introduce to the council next week.

Robert Samuels is a national political reporter who focuses on the intersection of politics, policy and people. He previously covered social issues in the District of Columbia.

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