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