The objectives of this audit were to determine whether the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) has adequate controls to ensure that homeless families with children are placed in facilities that are maintained in satisfactory condition and that the needs of families are assessed and monitored in a timely manner.

DHS is charged with addressing issues related to homelessness, including providing temporary, emergency shelter to individuals and families with no other housing options available to them.  To do this, DHS engages the services of numerous shelter providers.  DHS is required to monitor these shelter providers to ensure that they maintain the shelters in adequate physical condition.  DHS must also ensure that sheltered families receive appropriate services—either on-site or through referrals to other agencies—to help them in their transition out of the shelter system.  State regulations require that an Independent Living Plan (ILP) be developed for families residing in temporary housing.  Shelter providers are required to meet with families on a bi-weekly basis to determine the families’ progress and to help them obtain the skills required to return to permanent housing.  During Fiscal Year 2013 through March 2014, DHS provided shelter to approximately 12,500 families with approximately 23,500 children.

Audit Findings and Conclusions

DHS does not have sufficient controls to ensure that units within the shelter facilities are adequately maintained, that the needs of homeless families are assessed in a timely manner, or that the families receive appropriate services, including those designed to assist them to transition to permanent housing.  During our scope period, there were only 14 Program Analysts assigned to oversee the provision of services at 155 family shelters housing approximately 12,500 families.  Given the extent of oversight required, DHS does not apply sufficient resources to ensure that these families receive mandated services.  As a result, as DHS Program Analysts informed auditors, the agency relies on the shelter providers to inform the agency of problems with the housing and services provided to these families.  With little independent verification performed, DHS has only limited assurance that shelter providers have delivered housing and services in accordance with their agreements and the relevant regulations,  which increases the risk that vendors may provide inadequate housing and services to homeless families.

Our inspections of 101 apartments at eight randomly selected shelters found that the majority had one or more conditions that raise health and safety concerns, including rodent and roach infestation, peeling paint, water damage, and mold on bathroom ceilings.  Our inspections identified a total of 323 conditions related to 88 (87 percent) of the 101 apartments that we inspected.

In addition, because DHS does not maintain overall performance data on whether shelter providers developed ILPs in a timely manner or monitored families’ progress in meeting ILP goals, we also were unable to determine whether such services generally took place as required.  Our detailed review of 12 sampled families’ cases found that shelter providers did not monitor the families’ progress in meeting their ILP goals; none of the 12 families consistently complied with the provisions outlined in their ILPs or attended their required ILP sessions.  We found little evidence that these instances of non-compliance were identified and addressed by DHS.

We also found a number of security issues during our visits to the eight sampled shelters, such as an insufficient number of security guards at two shelters, no sign-in and sign-out logs at one shelter, and inoperable cameras at another shelter.  A lack of adequate security increases the vulnerability of residents to theft, break-ins, and other crimes.

Audit Recommendations

To address the issues raised by this audit, we make 13 recommendations including that DHS should:

  • Consider a reallocation of current staff from other DHS units to increase the number of Program Analysts overseeing the shelters to better monitor whether shelters are in compliance with the terms of their agreements.  The agency should also continue to seek additional funding from the City’s Office of Management and Budget to enable it to hire additional Program Analysts, as it has represented to us that it is currently doing.

  • Ensure that the shelter providers promptly correct the conditions that raise health and safety concerns in the eight sampled shelters identified in this report.

  • Reinforce to shelter providers the importance of performing the required number of unit inspections.  At the same time, DHS should enhance its own monitoring system so as to keep track of the number of unit inspections that are performed on a weekly and bi-weekly basis.

  • Modify existing monitoring controls and develop additional ones as needed that would allow it to ensure that shelter providers are completing ILPs in a timely manner and scheduling the required number of ILP sessions.

  • Modify existing monitoring controls and develop additional ones as needed to that ensure that shelter providers follow up with clients who do not consistently accomplish the tasks set forth in their ILPs and/or attend their ILP sessions and conferences.

  • Work with shelter providers to ensure that all shelter facilities, including clusters, are provided with adequate security, including a sufficient number of security guards and security cameras.

Agency Response

In their response, DHS officials generally agreed with the audit’s 13 recommendations, stating that they have already taken action to begin implementing them.