Homeless Women Being Mistreated At Open Door Women's Shelter

During the media blitz that I was the subject of this past December, it was said that I stopped police harassment at a certain women's shelter. While that assertion is substantially correct, the facts are a little off. Women who stay at the Open Door Shelter were leaving at 7 AM (when the shelter closes) and buying breakfast at the food court on the first floor of the Judiciary Square government building (441 4th Street NW, Washington, DC)

Even though the food court seats 200 people easily and hardly ever has 50 or more people in it, the women were being told to leave by security -- sometimes right after they'd purchased their food. One particular cop was especially notorious for his crass manner in dealing with these women. due to my intervention, he has been re-assigned and the homeless women are able to eat in peace and stay warm in this de facto shelter -- to get the homeless 2-for-1: buy food and/or drink and also benefit from the warmth.

Well, now the mistreatment is coming from the shelter staff. Mistreatment of the homeless by the shelter staff that is entrusted with their care is nothing new in DC shelters -- not even at the Open Door Shelter which is operated by New Hope Ministries. But, the staff seems to have sunken to a new low. They are throwing out the women's bare necessities -- even their shampoo, soap and important papers.

Several weeks ago, a certain homeless woman told me that she had been ordered to downsize -- to get rid of some of her belongings. If she didn't, she risked losing her bed. She told me that open containers of shampoo, lotion and liquid soap were being confiscated from the women and thrown out.

She also explained that the rules previously stated that she could store her belongings in her locker and leave up to 2 bags on her bed when she left in the morning, but that the bags that she takes with her are now counted as the 2 bags that are allowed to be outside of her locker. Though I know this woman to be a bit of a pack rat, there is substance to her claim that the rules are being changed without staff going through the proper procedures to do so.

Any time that a shelter rule is changed, the Dept. of Human services is supposed to be notified and to O.K. the rule change. The rule is not supposed to take effect for 90 days and the shelter residents are supposed to sign a paper stating that they have been made aware of the new rule and understand it.

This morning another woman stopped me to give a more in-depth explanation of the mistreatment that is occurring in this shelter. she said, as the first one did, that open bottles of hygiene products were not being allowed, making it difficult for women to keep themselves clean. This reminds me of airport security checks for which the TSA has become infamous. But she added that she is no longer allowed to sell her discount sodas for 50 cents to residents at the shelter which has no soda machines.

Many of the women at the shelter sell Street Sense, DC's street paper about poverty and homelessness, at various intersections throughout the DC Metro area. (They buy it for 35 cents and sell it for a dollar.) However, they are being told that they may not bring papers into the shelter. This, of course, means that they must dispose of papers that they may have spent their last bit of money on if they want a bed. And so, even those who are making an effort to get it together are being held down by the shelter staff, of all people.

The woman who stopped me this morning implored me to write this blog post and inform people about how the women at Open Door are being treated. She was quite passionate as she explained that she really wanted to see this issue publicized and addressed. that said, this blog post is a promise kept, though it wasn't up by 5 PM like I had said it would be.

She also stressed the need for sensitivity training for the staff. Many of the homeless and their advocates have asked for this many times over the years. The training sessions have occurred from time to time, but to no avail. After making broad statements about the need for sensitivity among the staff, she gave an example of a particularly insensitive occurrence that took place this morning.

A certain staffer named Ms. Blackwell was seen pacing back and forth this morning telling the women repeatedly that they needed to be gone by 7 AM. She came across like a drill sergeant and seemed quite thrilled by the prospect of putting the women out into the weather, with the temperature at that time being in the 30's. Granted the hypothermia alert was called of by Ms. Blackwell's higher-ups, it would have satisfied the residents to simply hear her express remorse for having to put them out, rather than excitement.

The shelter recently got a new director named Ms. Johnson who apparently has a property at 1610 7th Street NW which is worth $750,000. It is when homeless service providers can afford such extravagant items as this that they are seen as "poverty pimps". Though the informant didn't say much about Ms. Johnson, she made it clear that Ms. Johnson doesn't seem to be the nicest person in the world.

Then there is Ann Kirby, the former director of Open Door. I've heard many complaints about her from many women over the past 2 years. She needs her own blog post in order for me to adequately explain all that she has done to hurt the women. I personally have had someone from the Dept. of Human Services go down and talk to residents about how she was treating them. At one time, the women were strongly considering circulating a petition to call for her ouster. For some strange reason, Ann Kirby's name is showing up on the write-ups that the women are receiving (for things as miniscule as having too many possessions). But Ms. Kirby hasn't set foot in the building in over a year.

Even the security was complained about. The story was told of a certain resident who, though being petite, was quite obnoxious. She was known to antagonize many people. One day she was confronted by a much larger woman who threatened her with a broom. The security guard approached as if to break up the altercation, but upon seeing who was about to be attacked, turned around and went back to her desk.

On yet another occasion, one woman picked up another and threw her into the wall. The indentation is still there, as the wall has yet to be repaired. The attacker was not jailed or prosecuted. instead, she was allowed to transfer to the John L. Young Women's shelter which is on the other end of the same building and was recently taken over by New Hope ministries, the same people that run Open Door.

And so, you can see that the homeless women at the Open Door Shelter have a long litany of complaints about the way in which the shelter is managed by the church. One would hope that those bearing the name of Christ would do better. (I guess the pedophile priests should've taught us otherwise.) Nonetheless, I will post this on facebook and Twitter. I will also send it to people in the media and in DC Government. I hope that something is done soon. Due to the relationship that I have with the women at this shelter, I'm certain that I will be told of any changes, good or bad, that occur. Let's see what happens under the new mayor, Vincent Gray.


Anonymous said…
Homelessness is a living nightmare! Having to carry everything you own with you is exhausting! Open Doors gives a locker and allows 2 bags to stay within the confines of the small space allocated, so that the women whom stay there can go about their day without having to HAUL EVERYTHING with them! That does not mean upon returning to the shelter one can bring in 2-3 more bags if one HAS LEFT there quoto of bags there during the day! There is a saftey issue with respect to having too much stuff as in FIRE HAZARD! Just like elevators and resterants and stadiums THERE is a maximum weight or person capacity. The shelters are regulated by space too. Anyone with more than 3 bags needs to have a storage unit. And when ONE has a storage unit and still insist on carrying everything around in addition to wanting to leave bags at the shelter during the day then there is SOMETHING wrong. Homelessness takes its toll on anyone and if you have been doing it for years it can affect your perception, as it has Patricia Henry's, the woman you speak of that is the PACK rat. Brenda KaryL Lee-Wilson
Anonymous said…
We need both sides of the story here...this is all just heresay.
Anonymous said…
Agreed... this is all heresay. It's in poor taste to call out shelter staff by name, particularly when the accusation is based solely on the reports of an angry person who may stand to benefit from damaging the reputation. Maybe this blog post would better serve to talk about the frustrations and emotional tolls taken on homeless people.

Shelter staff, while they are not flawless, are hardly "poverty pimps." Have you ever looked at the average salary of a shelter director? It does not even begin to reflect the huge amount of work they do. And if, as it turned out, they were well-compensated, we should applaud the city and the shelters for finally realizing that this work is extremely taxing, difficult, and requires a multitude of skills and patience. One should also consider the possibility that Ms. Johnson was responsible with the money she had; that she saved carefully, invested carefully, and at some point in her life was able to afford a nice condominium. Maybe she is married to someone and their combined income allows for it. Maybe she comes from family money, and her family is helping to pay her rent so that she can committ a lifetime to service. Not having met Ms. Johnson, I know nothing about her personal or financial situation, but neither do you- I think you can see how negligent this is to jump to such conclusions. Wishing financial misfortune on others simply because one personally has experienced misfortune or bad luck seems pretty hateful.

The Judiciary Square Cafeteria should be able to choose whether it is a shelter. While police should not be targetting those they know to be homeless, the cafeteria also has the right to not allow people to loiter and use it as shelter if that is not the intent.

Your comment on pediphile priests was extremely narrow-minded and offensive as well. I believe you owe your Catholic supporters an apology.

Finally, HSRA (Homeless Services Reform Act)- the same legislation that ensures shelters have to wait 3 months before changing a rule- is also the legislation that makes it close to impossible for the shelters to terminate the stay of abusive residents such as the one you describe. Advocates worked hard to ensure that dangerous people are allowed to stay in shelters to ensure that due process and fairness is executed, giving the client much more leverage than the shelter. This may be worth the trade to protect people from abuse, but it's worth pointing out that the very legislation passed in order to protect shelter residents is the same legislation that is harming them- both in the short term and in the long term.
Eric Sheptock said…
In response to these complaints having been received by the Dept. of Human Services, there will be a hearing at 920 Rhode Island Ave. NE @ 11 AM on 2/22/11 during which the women can voice their concerns. The threat of bad publicity works.
We encourage you to sign and share our online petition for a Bill of Rights for the Homelessat: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/2/bill-of-rights-for-the-homeless/

I have been a recognized volunteer in the community for 10 years. Recently, I founded a nonprofit dedicated to building strong families and lived as a homeless person for 7 months to understand the authentic needs of our constituents.

To my surprise, I was subjected to harassment, intimidation, and verbal abuse by shelter staff and security personnel. Additionally, I witnessed the other residents being subjected to the same treatment.

As I took my findings to community leaders and citizens, many dismissed it or made comments to minimize the severity of such abuse. We have civil rights protections for a variety of vulnerable groups such as racial minorities, people with disabilities, and nursing home patients. We have laws to protect citizens against domestic violence. However, once a person enters a homeless shelter, all bets are off.

This should not be happening in our country. More than 1.6 million unemployed professionals, middle-class families displaced by foreclosure, and underemployed blue-collar workers are homeless and possibly face this treatment. Given the slow job market, another 6 million Americans who are doubled-up with family and friends are at-risk of being homeless and facing this maltreatment.

Just as other vulnerable groups needed extra legal protections, the time has come to pass legislation for the dignified and respectful treatment of people experiencing homelessness.

-Sapphire Jule King, MAEd
Founder & President, International Freedom Coalition
Anonymous said…
I am a woman now living homeless shelter with my two kids. The cause spouse abuse and abandment. The shelter here throw women out with children at all hours. For reason of not getting along with staff to having food in ur room or dirty drug test. They change rules when every they feel with no warning or written letter. They tell the public they offer progams to help get them started but have none. They say they are run on donations but charge 250. They keep up the show for the churches and city. But unless anyone come and stay here their self. They will not know the truth. Many people look down on us but not as much we do ourself. This is not a goal we wanted but we are here. All we want is to be treated the same as any american. 3004 w. Marshall ave.longview texas Is shelter and best believe u will get some kind of trouble if complain. Even kicked out for seeking help.instead of just speaking about it check it out ur self. Being a person in a ahelter and being one who visit see and be treated two different ways. Not all women are druggies some are abused or just plain down on their luck.
Anonymous said…
Not everything you hear is all just hearsay....If a person is expressing abuse that they experience from staff,how can you use the judgment that all is said is hearsay....I would like to express actual events that I have encountered with staff in the john young facility... I have seen staff deny women beds because of their personal views.I have seen staff Lie about having beds available and giveing the bed to anouther woman who they think is more fit.....I think this is wrong and disgusting.
I dare these people abuse there authority in this manner....It's hard to prove that this is happening but it
happening..I also see staff provoking and allowing clients to entertain and interfere in other clients business....And the staff allows it....Then staff calls the police and tells the police that the client is irate and needs to be removed from the facility.....I am not here to bad mouth the staff...I am here to give the truth about what I have experienced and seen with my own eyes...some people are scared to speak up. They are afraid if staff finds out they will kick them out for speaking so they say nothing..Iwould like to say, every staff is not the same you have some staff who knows how to not bring personal issues they have against a client and abuse their authority. on the other hand you have some staff who are down right direspectful to the clients and give a bad name to their employer.....Anonymous

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