Why Is Families Forward Still Running D.C. General?
The entity that manages the shelter at D.C. General is called Families Forward, Inc. The organization, based at 1012 14th St. NW Suite 105, boasts that it operates a full-service facility manned round-the-clock by staff. In other words, it runs the Mandarin Oriental of homeless shelters:
"Families receive 24-hour services, which include shelter, meals, case management, outplacement services and aftercare services....The Family Development Advocate tracks program graduates for a period of 90 days up to one year. Contact is made with graduates, employers and outplacement service providers no less than once each month to identify issues that might otherwise cause loss of employment or the reoccurrence of displacement. The program complements this one on one support with regular workshops, which graduates attend to attain added preparation and support."
Shelter residents have a different take.
In the past week, City Desk has reported several items on D.C. General: overcrowded conditions, indifferent case workers, the death of a newborn, and staff soliticing sex from female residents in return for blankets and juice.
Problems with Families Forward, Inc. should not be new to city officials. In its report on the Banita Jacks case, the Inspector General flagged the group and the facility for poor management in dealing with that troubled family.
From December 2005 to April 2006, the Jacks family stayed at D.C. General under the watch of Families Forward. Among the key findings, the IG noted that the Jacks children were never interviewed "nor were their needs ever assessed." In what should be all too familiar to current shelter residents, the IG also reported the Jacks family did not see a case worker for nearly a month after first moving in.
It took the Families Forward staff nearly a month to have Banita Jacks fill out the basic intake forms. Even after their first meeting with a case worker, the IG noted that the worker completed only the first two pages of a nine page assessment form. Among the topics left blank: "Medical History," "Psychosocial/Family" history, and the case worker's own "subjective observations."
The IG also reported: "Based on interviews with the team and a review of the family's shelter case file, there is no indication that Families Forward made any referrals related to the physical or mental health needs of any family member."
The IG found that Families Forward "failed to conduct a thorough needs assessment." The IG wrote in its final report:
"A thorough assessment of [the parents] could have provided valuable insight into the family's needs and past challenges they faced, and that could have resulted in their being referred for further evaluation, treatment, or services."
The IG recommended:
*The D.C. Department of Human Services should consider proposing to the mayor a strategy for providing physical, mental health, and developmental screenings to all homeless children.
*The Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness as well as Families Forward should "review and amend in writing where necessary, the Hypothermia Shelter's intake, needs assessment, and case management processes to ensure that they are consistent not only with Families Forward's contractual obligations to the District, but also the intent...of the District's Homeless Services Reform Act."
Families Forward failed to return calls seeking comment. One worker who answered the phone replied that he was too busy helping families to answer our questions.
In an interview late this afternoon, Councilmember Tommy Wells, who chairs the Committee on Human Services, says that the conditions at D.C. General are "awful."
Wells says that he plans on holding an oversight hearing on the D.C. General mess. "To any degree that staff added to[residents'] misery, they need to not just be fired but prosecuted for anything they've done wrong."
Wells continues: "If Families Forward is not capable of running a humane shelter then we are going to have to deal with that."
Wells says that, at a minimum, the shelter should be a humane living space.
Does Families Forward meet that definition?
"That's what the oversight hearing is for," Wells says.
*photo courtesy of DC Watch.