DC Mayor Thinks Homeless Woman "CHOSE" To Die In Front Of Shelter

I usually don't blog just 2 days apart; but, certain recent developments in the case of the homeless woman who died in front of a homeless shelter warrant me blogging so close together. As it turns out, the Washington Post and the Washington Times have covered the story (which can be found on-line) and the family of the deceased might sue DC Government and/or the shelter in court. Furthermore, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty is on record as saying that the woman "chose" to forgo shelter and sleep outside. (I doubt he ever met her.) As the Washington Post article stated, the deceased was recorded on audio tape just 2 days before her death stating why she was not in the shelter (though I'm not sure as to whether or not it was as detailed as what she told me). Below is my June 9th post, which is followed by some "Additional Comments" about this wrongful death.....

June 9th:

This will, no doubt, prove to be the single most emotion-provoking blog post that I've done to date insomuch as it is about a homeless woman who was failed by the system and died needlessly right in front of a homeless shelter. As a matter of respect to the deceased and her family (whom I'm not in contact with), I won't give her real name, but will instead refer to her as Jane Doughless. Nonetheless, in order that her death not be in vain, I will make others aware of the fact that she died needlessly and of the circumstances surrounding her death.

Jane Doughless was a 51-year old homeless woman who was living with HIV. She was quite open and honest about her condition, which is not surprising given just how outspoken and rambunctious she was. Most of those who knew her knew what she had.

Several weeks prior to her death, she attended a meeting that had to do with there not being enough homeless shelters in our nation's capital.(See my April 1st blog post. There has been a series of such meetings since mid-April.) Jane Doughless stood up at the meeting, told people about her being HIV+, and asked when she would be housed by the Permanent Supportive Housing program. Little did we know on that day that Jane's desire for housing would become her dying wish.

Jane had lived on the street for some time. She used to sleep near Union Station, due to there not being any space for her at any of the shelters. She eventually got a bed at the CCNV Homeless Shelter at 2nd and D Streets, NW. Ms. Doughless told other shelter residents and the staff what she had. She explained to me that the residents began to be mean to her, insulting and harrassing her. She had an altercation with someone and was put out for a single night in May as a punishment. She decided against returning to the shelter and spent what would turn out to be the last month of her life on that bench in front of the shelter, making a week-long visit to the hospital within that month. She was failed by the shelter staff in that they failed to gain control of the people who were insulting Jane Doughless. I vaguely recall her saying that the staff was mean to her as well.

Jane came down with pneumonia about 3 weeks prior to her death and just days after asking for help at the meeting. She went into the hospital for about a week, having been discharged on or about May 25th. She then returned to the bench in front of the shelter. It is not known as to whether or not the hospital let her go prematurely. If so, it might've been due to her being homeless and indigent and not being able to pay for her healthcare, which is why i chose the AKA Jane "Doughless". (I'm not sure as to what hospital she was in. I DID notice a hospital band on her wrist when I saw her following her hospital stay. She chose not to talk about it.)

While Jane was failed by the shelter and possibly by the hospital, she was also failed by DC Government's Dept. of Human Services. In April 2008, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty announced the inception of DC's Permanent Supportive Housing program. This program was designed to house DC's chronically homeless population. It, ostensibly, prioritizes who gets housed first based on the vulnerability index, a system that attributes a certain number of points to each housing applicant for each physical and/or mental illness that the person has. (Substance abuse is listed as a mental illness on DC's vulnerability index.) Those who have the most points are then determined to be the most vulnerable, and thus, those most likely to die on the street if not housed. They are then housed first.

Evidently, this particular point system is pointless. It has failed Jane Doughless. She was obviously the most likely to die on the street if not housed. She's dead. I'd have to assume that there are some homeless people who have multiple non-lethal illnesses and are being given more points than a person who has a single, lethal illness and that this is resulting in those who are near death not being housed. Such were the conditions that led to the death of Jane Doughless.

Jane Doughless was found sitting up deceased on a bench in 80 degree weather around 6 PM on Sunday, June 7th, 2009. That was the spot where she spent the last month of her life. It was also where she sat and socialized with friends in her last days. A temporary memorial has been constructed in her honor on the bench where she died. Though the memorial is temporary, the memory of her and her situation doesn't need to be.

Housing is a human(e) right. Jane Doughless was denied this right. In order that her death not be in vain, let us continue the fight for housing and other human rights. Let us not get angry only for a fleeting moment and then return to business as usual. Stay angry until we change the system that allowed this to happen to her, angry enough to fight for change. The story of Jane Doughless could very well become your story. In this economy, you could soon find yourself "Doughless". There, but for the grace of God, go I.....

Additional Comments:

(Please excuse my medical ineptitude, as I referred to the deceased as having been "HIV+" when, in fact, I should've said that she had "full-blown AIDS".)

How does one define "choice"? Mayor Adrian Fenty made a senseless, thoughtless statement (which I hope you find on-line by going to the Washington Post website). Leaving a shelter and sleeping outside because the staff won't get the harassment under control doesn't constitute "choice" in my book. Furthermore, she had come down with pneumonia last year and people knew that she was prone to it. This should've moved her to top priority for the Permanent Supportive Housing.

One should bear in mind that, while PSH is supposedly given to the "most vulnerable" first, this actually WAS NOT how it was given out at its inception. The "Housing First Program", as PSH is often called, was developed just prior to the highly-contested closure of the Franklin School Shelter in Downtown DC. (Google: Franklin Shelter.) The mayor was in a rush to house 400 single, homeless men so as to justify closing the 300-man shelter. It therefore stands to reason that some of the less vulnerable or altogether invulnerable men were housed while certain highly vulnerable women were skipped over, all this for the reasons of getting the homeless men out of Downtown DC, closing Franklin School Shelter and selling the building to some greedy developer for $21 million. "Jane Doughless" may very well have become one of the mortal victims of corporate greed, in that her housing was given to some man who was less in need of it so that a men's shelter could be emptied. This speaks volumes to the failures of the Housing First program. Jane Doughless was failed by the system.

Let us not forget that a mentally ill, homeless, Japanese immigrant had his head bashed in as he slept outside near the Watergate Complex on Christmas Eve of 2008. He too might have been failed by the system. (I believe that his story appeared in the January 10th, 2009 issue of the Washington Post.)


My next 2 blog posts will be about "why people become homeless" and "the proposed closure of the CCNV Shelter" respectively. (Google: CCNV.) I read the comments about my blog posts as often as possible and many people appear to be concerned about the homeless issue, with some wanting to know the root causes of homelessness. I will blog the answer soon.


Jennifer said…
I am sorry for your loss, for her loss, for our loss as a community. Thank you for writing about her. I wish the story was a different one.
Kei said…
Thank you for all that you do and for taking the time to share not only your story but Jane's as well. It's sad to see how we just can't seem to get it together as a country and take care of our own. All our problems don't stem from a lack of money or food or resources. It's a lack of love.
Anonymous said…
why is it always someone elses fault?
Julio said…
I have written a post concerning your blog on my blog. It might not be in good taste but it does give you an opportunity to teach my readers about homelessness.
Patricia said…
I am sorry for you loss.
Thank you for being a caring, decent person. I notice anonymous was so ashamed of his own comment he did not give his name.
I have put a post about your blog, with the NPR article, on my blog, so more people can be informed.

Good luck.
Patricia said…
Slip of the fingers. That should have been "I'm sorry for your loss".
Mary said…
Go get `em Eric. I just read about you on NPR and I believe what you are doing is interesting, enlightening and necessary. More power to you! This story is heartbreaking. I am left with a picture of a woman, dead, on a bench with people all around. Unfortunately, this story repeats itself all over the world every day in one form or another.
~Static~ said…
This is very unfortunate, and the consequence of others not taking interest in the problem. Too little, too late. I'll be spreading the word.
Anonymous said…
I heard about this story on the local FOX news affiliate WTTG. People are more callous than ever before to suffering of the homeless this could be due to the bad economy. Keep up the good fight, people are listening to you.
KinMapper said…
Condolences to all.
Saw you on CNN fifteen minutes.
Good luck in getting a home.
Surely more than one person who could employ you full time saw the interview.
I am unemployed for years now and have my own fight against incompetent officials.
Keep up your quest and you, if any homeless person can in DC, will prevail at least with a full time job leading to home and hearth.
Mo said…
Hi Eric and thank you for giving us a direct view into your life and the lives of the homeless. I believe that there are lots of people out there that would like to step forward and help others; however, the ones that I talk to (when discussing helping the homeless) have a tough time accepting the notion that the homeless are not able to get a job somewhere to survive. Even if it means working in a fast food restaurant that will at least allow them to live somewhere with a roof over their heads. The general view (from what I gather), is that the homeless have options, but they are willingly not taking advantage of those options, because they rather not work tough jobs. Mainly though, I wanted to hear your perspective on this. What do you think is the root cause of homelessness? I believe the core issues need to be brought to the surface and people need to be educated properly (for which your blog is a great step forward). Having survived a major depression with years of therapy, I can easily understand how stress and many unconscious forces can break you down to the point where any individual can end up in the streets. So, I believe that the issue is beyond what the general norm thinks, and is rooted in depression, illness, lack of education, a difficult upbringing, and most important of all, a broken healthcare system that doesn't give the homeless access to specialized psychologists and doctors. By the way this is the first post on your blog that I've read, and will definitely be reading more, but if you have written any that discuss the issues that I brought up above, please point me to them - I would love to read them. Peace and Love
Joey-Dallas said…
My heart is broken. I have been bringing teens to D.C. for 4 years to work with the homeless. I want very much to change our world's thinking. We will be in D.C. July 13-19 working again with our nation's homeless in the capital. Keep bloggin' to keep us informed. Such a tragic loss and a sad commentary of our nation and world.
Eric Sheptock said…

to gain an understanding of the causes of homelessness, you can read my June 20th, 2009, December 30th, 2008 and January 16th, 2009 posts. People become homeless for a number of reasons. Some become homeless due to mental illness or substance. Many women become homeless while running from a violent husband. A person can have a prolonged hospital stay (possibly after an auto accident), during which they lose their job and their place. The fastest-growing segment of the homeless community is families. While individuals often become homeless due to their own missteps, family homelessness is usually indicative of a bad economy. Let's not forget about wars and natural disasters making people homeless. The list of possibilities goes on.
Eric Sheptock said…
That previous comment should have said "substance abuse", not just "substance".
Anonymous said…
This doesn't surprise me. The Mayor is more interested in furthering his political career. He doesn't seem to care about people who in his view don't matter.
Anonymous said…
Hi Mr Sheptock:
We have never met, and I know almost nothing about the facts related to the litigation that seems to go on in U.S. District Court in Washington DC, under the name Sheptock et al v Fenty et al.
I am also not an attorney, not even by a long shot.
Finally - the older I get the more I realize how clueless I am.
That said, I am writing t let you know that I looked at the records of this litigation online, in the court's Pacer system. There are some unusual feature in the litigation, which are likely to qualify it as "sham litigation". I believe that sham litigations are the most common severe abuses of human rights in the U.S.A. today.
Joseph Zernik
Cell 310 435 9107
Please support our petition:
1) Best short review of the Rampart scandal massive probe (1998-2000, 200 investigators), on how the Rampart-FIPs where falsely convicted and falsely sentenced - by renowned constitutional scholar, Founding Dean of Univ of Cal Irvine Law School, Prof Erwin Chemerinsky - paper from Guild Practitioner
2) Best reference on why the Rampart-FIPs are still imprisoned - by an official panel of experts, commissioned by the LAPD itself, led by civil rights activist, Att Connie Rice - LAPD Blue Ribbon Report (2006)
3) One reference for our low, conservative estimate of 10,000, compared to an estimate of 8,000 by the LA District Attorney office, 15,000 by criminal defense attorneys, and 30,000 by others - PBS Frontline (2001, updated 2005)
4) Full Disclosure Network video of a phone call request for assistance by Att Richard I Fine from jail
Sarah said…
Housing is most certainly a human right. Unfortunately, the United States has not proven to value human rights here or abroad. We must keep fighting against these injustices. Thank you for what you do and I'm sorry for your loss.
QtKira said…
I am heartbroken and disgusted after reading this article. It appals me that Mayor Fenty would say such a cold and callous remark about the death of a human being. Especially when it was his administration that did nothing to help her. I hope her death is not in vain. Keep spreading the word, Eric. We need to let people know what is happening in our community.

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