- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 1, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Homelessness should be making headlines again as the brrr! 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, ahem, 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 right-to-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.

Deborah Simmons can be contacted at [email protected]

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