Families Forward Testifies On D.C. General
Rule No. 1: Don't bring a box cutter to a D.C. council hearing.
One hour into Councilmember Tommy Wells' oversight hearing on D.C. General's family shelter, a Families Forward Inc. employee had a little trouble passing through the Wilson Building's metal detector. The employee tried to walk in with a box cutter.
Duncan Briggs, a monitor at the family shelter run by Families Forward, was told he could not bring the knife inside the building. He looked really confused—especially after he got caught trying to stash the knife on Wilson Building grounds. Security guards told him to take the knife somewhere else.
It was just another screw up by Families Forward.
Unfortunately, the nonprofit's executive staff seemed equally unprepared for Wells' questioning in a packed fourth-floor hearing room.
Families Forward Inc. knew the sorts of questions that would come up. The nonprofit had been the subject of numerous complaints and allegations ranging from the facility's mold and peeling paint, long waits to even see the nonprofit's case managers, inappropriate contact with female residents, and the deaths of two newborns in the past two years.
Wells had announced the hearing in advance. The nonprofit had signed up a large contingent of speakers and tried to fill at least some seats with residents in new Families Forward t-shirts. But when it was their turn to speak, the nonprofit's staff didn't have solid answers.
Ruby King-Gregory, Families Forward's CEO, read from a prepared statement only three paragraphs long. The statement made no mention of the dead newborns nor did it directly address the allegations of sexual harassment by her staff. King-Gregory did begin her statement saying: "Even though I would rather be anywhere else but here, I think you for the opportunity to appear before you."
She later called her staff efforts to deal with the shelter running over capacity–to 200 families in early March–"nothing short of heroic."
But what about the unheroic stuff?
Joi Buford, seated next to King-Gregory, spoke next and announced herself as the nonprofit's "former" program manager. Buford admitted that Families Forward Inc. fired two staffers in early March after it was discovered that they had sex with female residents. In one allegation, a staff member had witnessed the sex but failed to immediately report the incident. The staff member only reported the incident after they were asked about it.
Buford argued that this staff member was new. Indeed, the two workers were fired were also new employees.
Buford admitted that she did not notify the Department of Human Services about the incidents. When Wells asked her why she had failed to do so, Buford replied: "I just didn't notify them. There's no excuse."
Both Buford and Gregory had little to say about the newborn deaths. On Feb. 9, a five-week old named Princess died. Last May, a newborn baby died as well after her parents allegedly rushed her to a hospital. Buford did not seem concerned about that death. She had a unique reason: "The child did not die at the facility."
Both Buford and Gregory did not hold a special board meeting on the deaths or the recent allegations. Buford also admitted that she never saw the IG's report on Banita Jacks. In the report, Families Forward was criticized for its poor case management of the Jacks family. "We did not see that report until we started to see the articles," Buford says referring to the link above.
On their case management abilities, Buford replied: "We did the best we could with the staff that we had."
But Buford and Gregory could not say exactly how many case managers they had on staff. "I believe that we had seven or eight," Buford said. "I'm speaking off the cuff."
Gregory stated that Families Forward receives just under $2 million in public funds to run D.C. General.
The hearing raised new allegations that Families Forward did not even get around to addressing.
Quinzella Jenkins testified that she resided at D.C. General from Nov. 2005 to April 2006. She stated that staff had sex with female residents back then. "They were going in the staircase," she told City Desk. "They were having sex. It was ridiculous."
Jenkins said she had come to testify after reading about P.H.'s allegations that staff had propositioned her. She wanted to show that P.H. wasn't the only resident with that experience. "It did happen," Jenkins said. "I'm not looking for no merit badge."
Aaron McCormick testified that a resident had $450 stolen. Gregory, without explanation, wrote the resident a check for $600.
Latrice Kibler, 24, moved into the shelter after giving birth to twins two months earlier. She stayed at the shelter for a month and a half. She testified that she was propositioned by a private security guard multiple times. One time, the guard asked her to come with him to the sixth floor to have sex. City Desk had previously reported that the sixth floor had been known as something of a bachelor pad.
Kibler stated that she was surprised how forward the security guard had been. She said it seemed almost normal like "it had been done before." In an interview, she said the security guard acted like the sixth floor "was the spot."
"I told him I'm not that kind of lady," she said. "He was really cocky about it. This is your job. I'm like, 'Are you serious?'" She noted that she was propositioned by the guard at 5 a.m. near D.C. General's parking lot. And again in front of her room.
Kibler testified that the security guard also hit on her friend at the shelter. The friend was eight-months pregnant. She says the security guard kept entering her friend's room while she was trying sleep. He kept asking her if she was OK. At least once, she says, the friend caught the security guard just staring into her room.
The security guard was eventually fired after Kibler reported the incidents.
The Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness and the Department of Human Services testified that they have stepped up its monitoring of the shelter. The Partnership stated that they have given residents a hotline number to call to report incidents.
Clarence Carter, DHS' director, refused to answer specific questions about the allegations concerning Families Forward. He stated that he had been advised to keep quiet by the Office of the Inspector General and the AG's Office. Both the OIG and AG are conducting investigations into Families Forward.
Carter did not want to jeopardize those investigations. "I can't go into any detail," he stated.
"I'm a little stunned that you would have been advised not to share information," Wells stated. There are still more than 100 families living at D.C. General.
After much back and forth, Wells moved on. Carter admitted that his agency has no direct oversight over Families Forward. He stated that he relies on the Community Partnership to conduct oversight since they subcontract to Families Forward.
But Carter stated that Families Forward's contract is soon coming to an end. When it does, DHS will be removing D.C. General from the Community Partnership's portfolio. His agency will be charged with picking a company to run the family shelter.
After the hearing, Carter told City Desk: "I have a duty to respond to this and I will absolutely meet that duty."