Audit Calls for Enhanced Protection of Families and Women in State’s Emergency Housing Program

In an audit released this past week, State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump is calling on the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) to better inform women and families in its Emergency Housing Assistance (EA) program of registered sex offenders living at shelter sites and improve inspections of shelter conditions. The EA program provides shelter to women and families who are homeless and helps them find stable, permanent housing. The audit found the agency did not inform women and families living in EA housing of registered sex offenders living or working in the same location. Further, the audit shows DHCD did not adequately monitor the physical conditions of its shelters or case management services for EA program participants.

Bump’s audit, which examined the period of July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2018, revealed that although DHCD does require EA program applicants to self-identify if they are registered sex offenders, it does not communicate this information to shelter site operators so they can inform families and women living in the same buildings. Bump calls on the agency to use the Commonwealth’s Sex Offender Registry Board to identify offenders who may be living or working near shelter sites and take appropriate measures to ensure the safety of program participants.

In its response to the audit findings, DHCD disclosed that a registered sex offender allegedly molested a child in the EA program while the victim’s family was living in a DHCD apartment.

“DHCD has a responsibility to assist its clients in finding a safe and comfortable place to call home. Unfortunately, our audit shows the agency has not been vigilant in its approach to identifying sex offenders who may pose a safety risk and notifying its clients of these risks,” Bump said of the audit. “I encourage the agency to take advantage of the tools and data at its disposal, most notably the Sex Offender Registry Board list, to be more proactive in its efforts to keep clients safe.”

Bump also calls on the agency to improve oversight of shelter inspections, establish a central database of inspection reports, and require supervisor sign-off on all inspection reports. The audit found DHCD was not on track to complete required onsite inspections of EA program shelter sites at least once every three years. The failure to properly conduct and oversee these inspections creates an increased risk that health and safety issues—including wiring problems, bedbugs, and inoperable smoke detectors—may go undetected for long periods of time.

Finally, Bump calls for improvements to the agency’s case management protocols after the audit found DHCD did not provide adequate oversight of its staff in monitoring support providers who perform services for pregnant women and children in the EA program.

DHCD’s Division of Housing Stabilization is responsible for administering the EA program, which provides emergency housing to homeless families and pregnant women throughout the Commonwealth. The EA program is designed to provide short-term, safe accommodation for those who are homeless. During the audit period, 24,228 pregnant women and families applied for access to the emergency housing program. During the audit period, the program received annual state appropriations of over $155 million.

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