The home­less, hu­man ser­vices co­nun­drum

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - Ahem, brrr! DEB­O­RAH SIM­MONS Deb­o­rah Sim­mons can be con­tacted at dsim­mons@wash­ing­ton­times.com.

Home­less­ness should be mak­ing head­lines again as the of win­ter weather inches nearer. Do not be de­ceived, though. That home­less peo­ple ex­ist is cer­tainly not an il­lu­sion. After all, there’s not a state in this na­tion where — but for the grace of God, phi­lan­thropy and pub­lic cof­fers — many home­less peo­ple do not have a roof over their heads, even if they can­not call it “home.” And, for sure, the home­less ad­vo­cacy lobby re­minds us as much, es­pe­cially at cer­tain times of the year.

None of that means, how­ever, that we aren’t be­ing snook­ered. For ex­am­ple, our dol­lars are be­ing wasted on home­less pro­grams that our,

well-in­ten­tioned poli­cies aren’t de­liv­er­ing.

So says D.C. In­spec­tor Gen­eral Daniel Lu­cas, who in­formed D.C. Hu­man Ser­vices Direc­tor Laura Zeilinger of sev­eral mis­man­aged and waste­ful un­der­tak­ings. In short, this isn’t a typ­i­cal case of garbage in/garbage out be­cause the waste bins weren’t even used.

Chief among prob­lems cited by the in­spec­tor gen­eral:

1) Fail­ure to ver­ify home­less re­cip­i­ents and their spe­cific needs. Some par­tic­i­pants “did not meet all el­i­gi­bil­ity re­quire­ments and case files were miss­ing ap­pli­ca­tions,” ac­cord­ing to the IG re­port.

2) Pay­ment to home­less ser­vice providers with­out sub­stan­tial and law­ful ver­i­fi­ca­tion. In some in­stances, pay­ments were made sim­ply be­cause a provider sub­mit­ted a voucher. In other cases, ser­vice providers were paid “with­out re­ceiv­ing re­ceipts, vouch­ers, and other sup­port­ing doc­u­men­ta­tion,” the re­port said.

3) Home vis­its and other fol­low-up ser­vices fell short.

4) Fail­ure to con­duct crim­i­nal back­ground checks cre­ated po­ten­tial health and safety risks.

D.C. of­fi­cials are at a cross­roads be­cause they in­sist on con­tin­u­ing rightto-shel­ter poli­cies — hu­man ser­vice poli­cies that cur­rently suck more than $4.3 bil­lion in an­nual rev­enues. That fig­ure is nearly three times as much as pub­lic safety and al­most twice as much as pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion.

Peo­ple have a moral obli­ga­tion to aid the poor and the truly un­for­tu­nate, and there is noth­ing in­her­ently wrong with govern­ment of­fer­ing a hand up.

How­ever, when govern­ment opens the doors to waste, fraud and abuse, it’s time to re­think pub­lic pol­icy.

Mayor Muriel Bowser seems to be try­ing to do just that, say­ing re­cently that not all ap­pli­cants and re­cip­i­ents of D.C. home­less and hu­man ser­vices largesse are ac­tual D.C. res­i­dents.

In other words, we’ve been trust­ing but not ver­i­fy­ing.

If we can­not trust the ver­i­fiers, there’s no way to know who’s home­less and who’s not, who’s de­liv­er­ing ser­vices and who’s not, and who’s ac­tu­ally re­ceiv­ing ser­vices and who’s not.

Mr. Lu­cas sent a copy of his damn­ing re­port and rec­om­men­da­tions to the very peo­ple re­spon­si­ble for clean­ing up this mess — in­clud­ing the mayor, D.C. Au­di­tor Kathy Pat­ter­son, D.C. Chief Fi­nan­cial Of­fi­cer Jef­frey DeWitt and key D.C. Coun­cil mem­bers, in­clud­ing Yvette Alexan­der. (Miss Alexan­der, chair of the health and hu­man ser­vices panel, leaves of­fice in a month. So cc’ing her on the Nov. 18 let­ter must merely be a courtesy FYI since the prob­lems oc­curred dur­ing her watch.)

If any or all of the peo­ple with over­sight du­ties do in­deed care about the home­less, they need to see them­selves in such un­for­tu­nate predica­ments and stop look­ing at dig­ging deeper into pub­lic cof­fers.

They also should ask who rightly de­serves D.C. money, what pro­grams ef­fec­tively end the cy­cle of de­pen­dency and what road­blocks are in the way.

At ev­ery turn, be­fore Old Man Win­ter ar­rives, they also must ask them­selves how to stem the flow of mis­man­age­ment.

Even pub­lic dol­lars don’t grow on trees.

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