that she personally trained both current and new OESSS employees regarding OESSS procedures. New employees participate in a 30-day training and orientation program which includes weekly meetings, hands-on training, and observation and evaluation by Ms. Shaw.
1. Prior System for Allocating Shelter
The District's system for allocating emergency shelter to families has varied significantly over the years. Between January 1992 and January 1994, the District followed a system whereby applicants were considered and placed on a first-come, first-served basis until all spaces available on a particular day were filled. Families who applied after all available spaces were filled were not provided an individualized eligibility determination, but were issued a pro forma denial for lack of space.
Applicants were thus required to reapply each day in order to be considered for shelter.
The system created an incentive for applicants to arrive as early as possible at OESSS in order to be among the first in line when the office opened in the morning. In some cases, families camped out overnight at 25 M Street in order to be among the first in line for shelter.
2. The Waiting List System
The system for allocating shelter changed substantially in January 1994, when the District halted its practice of allocating shelter on a daily first-come, first-served basis, and switched to a waiting list system. Under the waiting list system, as reflected in Pl. Exh. 175 and as described by numerous witnesses, applicants are given an application, including a screening form, upon their arrival at the OESSS office. The screening form contains "yes or no questions surrounding the objective aspects of a family's eligibility for shelter." Pl. Exh. 175. OESSS workers review the screening form and application for possible eligibility problems. If potential problems exist, further inquiry is made and a decision on eligibility is rendered.
If no apparent barriers to eligibility exist, the applicant is given a waiting list number and is instructed to telephone a recording at OESSS each day after 10:00 a.m.
The recording states the waiting list numbers to be served on a given day. It does not recite waiting list numbers called on prior days but not claimed.
Applicants whose numbers are called are instructed to present themselves at OESSS by 1:00 p.m. that day to be placed. OESSS' policy is to hold a case file open for 14 days from the date a number is called. If an applicant does not present him or herself within 14 days, the file is closed and the applicant is required to reapply for benefits. The 14 day window is not explained on the forms given to homeless family applicants.
The waiting list system is not free of problems. According to Sister Mary Ann Luby, an outreach worker for WLCH, the recording is not always changed by 10:00 a.m. In addition, on occasion the recording malfunctions. Plaintiffs complain that these problems create difficulties for homeless families, as does the fact that OESSS does not directly contact families when their numbers come up.
Only about fifty percent of the applicants whose numbers are called actually return to OESSS for placement.
Eligibility determinations are not performed at the time an applicant is placed on the waiting list. Instead, an eligibility determination is made at the time the applicant's number is called, prior to actual placement into shelter. As a result, families on the waiting list but not yet approved for shelter do not receive services given to families actually placed in emergency shelter. Families placed in shelter receive referrals to other social services, as appropriate, an opportunity to attend classes in the Regional Resource Center, assistance in obtaining permanent housing, and case management services.
Moreover, because an eligibility determination is not made at the time of application, applicants on the waiting list are not referred to Healthcare for the Homeless, a free medical clinic operated at 25 M Street, S.W. Finally, families placed in emergency shelter receive priority placement on the waiting list for permanent housing maintained by the Department of Public and Assisted Housing ("DPAH")
3. Capacity of the Program
The District unquestionably does not have the financial resources to serve all eligible families who need emergency shelter. At the time of trial, families waited an average of two months from the time they were placed on the waiting list to be placed in emergency shelter. This wait is no doubt exacerbated by the fact that the number of available shelter spaces has plummeted in recent years, from 495 spaces in the fall of 1994 to 139 spaces at the time of trial.
Undoubtedly the District's withdrawal from the federal Emergency Assistance reimbursement program effective July 1, 1993, operated to reduce significantly the number of spaces available for eligible families. Moreover, plaintiffs contend that the District's mismanagement of its public housing programs contributes to the inability of OESSS to move families from temporary shelter to permanent housing, thereby freeing up temporary shelter space. According to Patricia Mullahy Fugere, WLCH's Executive Director, at the time of trial, the Department of Public and Assisted Housing had 2360 vacant permanent public housing units. DPAH has been severely criticized for mismanagement of the public housing program.
In sum, when one considers the substantial delay between application for shelter and eventual placement, and the extremely modest number of emergency shelter units presently available, it is evident that the District does not have emergency shelter readily available to families in need.
C. Documentation Requirements
Consistently since June 1991 to the present, the District has had a policy of requiring homeless families to provide documentation of their eligibility. The specific documentation requirements have changed over the years.
Beginning in June 1991, OESSS workers distributed a form to applicants which provided as follows:
"All Applicants for Family Shelter" When applying for shelter -- All applicants will need the following: