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Report: D.C. homeless shelter filled with risks

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Photo - Homeless in D.C. staying at a Southeast shelter face numerous risks, according to a report from the inspector general. (Examiner file photo)
Homeless in D.C. staying at a Southeast shelter face numerous risks, according to a report from the inspector general. (Examiner file photo)
Local,DC,Alan Blinder

Homeless District residents staying at a city-owned shelter in Southeast Washington could be at risk because of a malfunctioning metal detector, a lack of control over prescription medications and a faulty generator, the D.C. inspector general has found.

"These deficiencies could cause safety issues," Inspector General Charles Willoughby wrote of conditions at the 801 East Housing Assistance Center. "Correcting these deficiencies will create a safer, more positive environment for clients at the 801 East shelter."

In his report about the 380-bed complex on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, Willoughby appeared most concerned about a lack of secured storage for residents' prescription medications, describing it as "a significant threat to clients' health and safety."

To ensure privacy, residents of the shelter keep their own medical supplies, but the inspector general said they have no way of keeping them locked away from others.

"Given the likely presence of prescription medications in clients' rooms and cubicles, room sharing by unrelated men, and the open nature of homeless shelters, the team was concerned by the lack of safe and secure storage of clients' medications and the potential for accidental or deliberate ingestion by someone other than the prescribed user," Willoughby wrote.

He also warned that stolen medicines "could be used, sold, or exchanged for other drugs, making them an attractive commodity."

City investigators also found that the shelter's only metal detector has repeatedly been rendered useless. Officials at 801 East blamed the malfunctions on the shelter's entryway, which is small and forces people to enter and exit through the same door, allowing them to bump into and damage the magnetometer.

With the primary metal detector out of commission, shelter staff members have resorted to using a hand-held device, commonly called a "wand," and pat-down searches for screenings.

"Manual wand screening and patdowns of each client may be impractical and may result in undetected weapons entering the facility," the report said.

An 801 East resident told investigators that "stuff slips through," and staff members showed the inspector general's team a weapon they had confiscated.

A spokesman for the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness, which operates the shelter under a city contract, referred questions to the D.C. Department of Human Services.

DHS spokesman Reggie Sanders said the agency plans to implement Willoughby's suggestions.

"We have reviewed the inspector general's report and are looking into each of the issues raised and will take corrective actions as recommended," Sanders said.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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