The Horizon, under construction in June 2018
The Horizon, under construction in June 2018 Credit: Darrow Montgomery

The Department of Human Services notified social service providers on Monday that it terminated a contract with Life Deeds, the nonprofit organization that manages the day-to-day operations of a homeless shelter in Ward 7.

In an email to shelter “stakeholders,” Jenna Grant Cevasco, a senior DHS employee who manages the agency’s homeless shelter programming, wrote that the contract “is being terminated as a result of problems with documentation submitted to DHS.” City Paper reported earlier this month that an internal audit of DHS contracts revealed that Life Deeds appeared to falsify critical personnel files, including background checks and drug screens. 

On January 28, DHS dismissed some of the Life Deeds staffers working at The Horizon, a new homeless shelter that opened last fall in Ward 7, and replaced them with case managers from the agency’s Family Services Administration. The executive director of Life Deeds, Allieu Kamara, continues to deny wrongdoing. Life Deeds has also settled civil suits with former employees, who sued the organization over unpaid wages. It is unclear whether Life Deeds self-reported these lawsuits to the D.C. government in its bid to operate the shelter.

The finding is a blow to the administration of Mayor Muriel Bowser, who has touted the opening of The Horizon, and other small homeless shelters in wards 4 and 8, as major accomplishments of her tenure. 

Life Deeds will continue to “provide services” at the shelter for the next 45 days while DHS negotiates a contract with another provider, according to the email Cevasco sent, “because we want to make sure this does not delay plans for residents to move to permanent housing.” DHS Director Laura Zeilinger tells City Paper that Life Deeds has since re-submitted the appropriate personnel files for shelter staff, but that the organization was not able to sufficiently explain the discrepancies in its initial filing. Life Deeds’ actions are “not the fault” of the shelter staff, nor a problem “created by the staff,” Zeilinger says, adding that it is possible that the new shelter manager will hire some of the existing staff initially hired by Life Deeds.  

Life Deeds also operated a second, separate transitional housing program for youth who have come in contact with the court system. When Zeilinger spoke with City Paper about this contract, she initially said it was still “undecided” whether Life Deeds would continue to run that program. Later this afternoon, a DHS spokesperson told City Paper that Life Deeds’ contract for the transitional housing program was also terminated. Four other vendors have absorbed the scope of work from that contract, the spokesperson says.

City Paper asked Zeilinger whether Life Deeds will be eligible to bid on future projects. “OCP will make that determination and there’s a pretty formal process for debarring an organization … We’d rely on them to make that determination,” she says. “But there’s some trust that’s been broken in this process that’s unfortunate.” 

“We caught this fairly early, and we do our due diligence” reviewing bidders’ paperwork, Zeilinger says. “It does reinforce for us the importance of verifying clearances that are required, and we’ll ensure that’s part of our business process. [But] we always need to strike a balance between ensuring our controls are tight and that we’re not creating a system that’s hard to work with [or is] cumbersome, to discourage great organizations from working with us.” 

This post has been updated with new information from DHS about the termination of Life Deeds’ second contract.