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The exodus of senior officials from the lame-duck administration of Mayor Vince Gray continues, this time claiming the man who presided over one of the administration’s most difficult policy challenge, the huge spike in homeless families seeking shelter. David Berns, the director of the Department of Human Services, will depart on June 28, according to an announcement from Gray’s office.
The announcement states that Berns is leaving to spend more time with his family in Michigan. That may well be the case, but the timing is inopportune. By late June, the administration will be near, but not quite at, the end of a 100-day push to provide housing for 100 homeless families. It’s the biggest effort to combat the homelessness crisis that marred an otherwise successful economic record for Gray and may have contributed to his April 1 loss in the Democratic mayoral primary. DHS is also in the midst of a search for city-owned properties that can be used as shelters so the city can shut down the troubled shelter at the former D.C. General Hospital.
Berns took the helm of DHS in 2012. Gray, in a statement, credits him with streamlining the homeless intake process, redesigning the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, and spearheading the ongoing “500 Families, 100 Days” initiative.
“David has faced major challenges in his time as DHS director, and he has responded each time with thoughtfulness, expertise, compassion and the ability to execute a plan,” Gray says in the statement. “The District’s programs for homeless families, TANF recipients and other residents have been vastly improved thanks to his good work, and for that I am very grateful.”
Homeless advocates point out that Berns is not responsible for the main factor behind the increase in family homelessness, the insufficient supply of affordable housing. But they’ve been critical of his efforts to place homeless families into permanent housing and of his decision this winter to shelter homeless families at recreation centers—-a move eventually deemed illegal by a judge.
Berns’ departure follows those of other senior officials in the wake of Gray’s election loss, including Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Director Nicholas Majett, District Department of Transportation head Terry Bellamy and chief engineer Ronaldo “Nick” Nicholson, and Inspector General Charles Willoughby.
Berns’ office did not immediately return a call for comment.
Photo by Lydia DePillis