A woman walks into a homeless shelter in Tallahassee. She is immediately propositioned by the staff person in charge of incomings, who makes it clear she had best go home with him that night because
"You don't want to sleep in there. It's dangerous. You can come sleep at my place. We can stop at McDonald's."Fortunately, she manages eventually to call the police, who came and...
...informed me there was no crime. A staff member can solicit a guest for sex if they want to. They agreed it was unethical, inappropriate and just plain wrong, but there was nothing they could do.Wow. Just wow.
If not for the fact that the woman, Renee Miller, was not actually homeless, but a minister for the poor who decided to go undercover and "check out" the stories she had been told about goings on at shelters in the area, this staff person might still be "on the job." (As it is, he has been suspended without pay pending an investigation. Update: And quickly let go).
What's right up there on the appalling scale is what else she found in only a few hours of being there.
I found out some pretty disheartening stories. I found out that in order to get your laundry done, you had to perform sexual favors to the staff or you would get put at the end of the list... If a woman decides to stick up for herself she is threatened with a call to DCF to have her children taken away...And her realization that the stories of cruelty she had heard about other shelters from some of the homeless she had been ministering too were probably true...
I found out that "the rules" depended on who was working at that time and it is common to be yelled at and berated right in front of your own children. Nicknames given to the women by staff are things like "Fat Ass" and "Heifer."
A lot of the guys told me they choose to sleep outside because there is a Bed Bug infestation in The Shelter. At first I did not truly believe it, but everyday, our volunteers and their kids show up with bites all over them...I can hypothesize why some staffers are this cruel and exploitive. Dead end jobs, low pay, shitty working conditions. Thinking that if the people who run the place don't care enough to even deal with the bedbugs, why should you give a damn? Realizing people need so much more help than you can offer, leading to job despair. Rush Limbaugh and your neighbor who listens to Rush Limbaugh going off all the time on how worthless those you are trying to help are.
They told me that they are not allowed to bring their backpacks inside when they go eat. When they come back out to the polebarn their backpacks were collected by staff and thrown in the dumpster.
Many of these backpacks contained all the men had to their name, including important documents like their Birth Certificate, and photos and letters from loved ones...
((in another incident)) Their blankets were taken away and staff would not issue any of the 42 men that slept outside a blanket at check-in.
When one of the men went back up to tell staff that they all needed blankets, the staff member yelled at all the guys, "You are not getting blankets tonight and I don't care if you all freeze to death!"
I don't know what the solution to all this is given our benighted country (aside from the obvious... there are far more empty houses than homeless. But that would be too simple). And I'm sure that almost all workers at shelters and kitchens and free clinics are doing their best in what can be deeply trying conditions. But dammit. Can't we figure out how to make sure the downtrodden and desperate are treated with just a modicum of kindness and respect?