DC Council Member Calls for Investigation into Homeless Shelter Food Provider

A D.C. Council member is asking the attorney general to investigate after her office calculated that a contractor was paid up to $35 per meal offered at some homeless shelters.

Council member Mary Cheh, who represents Ward 3, is concerned that Henry's Soul Cafe was given an expanded city contract even though local nonprofit DC Central Kitchen offered a cheaper bid and has previously served meals at a lower cost, she said in a letter published by NBC4 news partner WTOP.

"My concern remains that the District government may have been defrauded, perhaps in multiple respects," she said in the letter.

A spokesperson for the D.C. Attorney General's Office says they are reviewing the matter and the office does investigate potential violations of the False Claims Act.

A lawyer for Henry's Soul Food says the vendor categorically denies the importance and accuracy of the numbers Cheh used in her analysis.

"It is more than disappointing that a veteran council member would irresponsibly call for an investigation by the D.C. Attorney General’s Office with, based on her own written admission, faulty, incomplete, unreliable and inaccurate facts and numbers relating to my client’s performance as a food subcontractor," Attorney A. Scott Bolden said in an email.

Department of Human Services reported on oversight documents shared by Cheh's office that Henry's charges $5.18 per supper meal, and DC Central Kitchen charges $3.20 per supper meal.

When asked about these specific figures, Bolden said they would provide accurate numbers in a letter to the attorney general.

The councilwoman said that Henry's was paid more than DC Central Kitchen in prior years, even though data suggests they provided fewer meals.

The Community Partnership, a nonprofit that DHS uses to administer many services to the homeless community, paid Henry's $7.1 million for food services during the year 2016, tax documents provided by Cheh's office show.

Based on the capacity of the DC General shelter and two hotels, Cheh calculated that Henry's could have served 200,000-600,000 meals annually, bringing the per-meal cost to $12.50-$35. 

DC Central Kitchen provided more than 1 million meals in a contract worth about $2 million, Cheh says.

Bolden says the per-meal cost numbers do not accurately reflect the vendor's costs and fees.

"We welcome a fair review of our subcontract," Bolden said. He said Henry's will provide a detailed response later this week.

The Department of Human Services and The Community Partnership did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

The disputed figures highlight the many organizations involved in providing social services to the District's residents, all of which have varying levels of oversight and rules about what information must be made publicly available.

Cheh introduced a bill to the council days after sending the letter that calls for the Department of Human Services to directly oversee food service contracts for D.C.'s shelters, among other measures.

DC Central Kitchen was the main provider of meals at D.C.'s homeless shelters until The Community Partnership gave Henry's the larger contract.

WTOP reported that the change left DC Central Kitchen grappling with a $1 million revenue shortfall.

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