Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Worthington St. Shelter put Lisa's life at risk

I said in my last post that we'd been worried about Lisa, a homeless woman we hadn't seen in nearly a week.  At 5 pm today she came to the Arise office.  She was crying, saying she was not doing too good.  I asked where she'd been staying and she said, "On the street." 

Jackie said she'd call Worthington St. Shelter and plead for them to let her in.

"They won't let me in," Lisa said, "because the police brought me there last night at midnight and they turned me away anyway.  Worthington said I was banned."

"Why did they say you are you banned, Lisa?"

"Because I stole a scoop of Cremora when I was there a month ago."

What I knew had happened a month ago was that she had applied to get in, but staff told her she would have to go to detox first.  So she'd spent the whole of the next day at our office, calling detox every hour, as she'd been directed, but they never had a bed for her.  I emailed Bill Miller, Director, about her to ask why she couldn't stay at the shelter and make her calls to detox from there?  Bill said that was entirely possible-- and yet, she was still being turned away.

Sure enough, when Jackie called, staff said her case was "under review" but that she was still banned.

We still  had a lot of folks still in the office.  Carl, the guy sleeping under a bridge, had turned up about 4 pm.,  bringing a young homeless woman with him.  They were hungry.  Fortunately, Cynthia Melcher had brought us some food earlier in the day, so they cooked something up on the hotplate in our back office.  Two of our members were there, and they both took me aside and asked what I thought of their taking Carl, Lisa and Carl's friend home with them for the night.  (This could be a long discussion, but on a night when the temperature will fall to the low 30's, there is only a short answer.)

Lisa had fallen asleep sitting up in a chair and for a while had been snoring deeply.  But when I went to shake her awake and tell her the good news, I couldn't rouse her.  I wasn't even sure she was breathing!

Folks rallied around while I called 911, who connected me with the ambulance service.  Via instructions from the dispatcher, we got her on the floor, determined she was breathing although shallowly, and then she started to cough, deep and phlegmy, and rolled on her side.  When the paramedics arrived, they managed to get her to her feet and they walked to the ambulance. 

I thought, at least she'll have a place to sleep tonight.  I thought, what if she hadn't come here and had gone to some doorway in the city-- would she have been alive tomorrow?  I realized my blood was boiling; in fact, the office was full of concerned, angry people. 

I asked Liz what I could possibly  say to Worthington St. shelter staff that wouldn't get me accused of making a threat.  She suggested I phone in a report on the status of Lisa.  So I did.  All I said was, "I am calling to give you a status update on Lisa, the woman you turned away from shelter tonight.  She collapsed in our office and was taken away by ambulance.  You understand, this is the woman you turned away.  She could have died."  They hung up on me-- it must have been the barely controlled rage in my voice. 

Earlier today I talked with a Worthington St. resident who said things were rotten at Worthington-- that favoritism was rampant, that Worthington only wanted "the cream of the crop" of homeless people, that people were turned away night after night.  He and I will talk more later this week.

Rose Evans at the Division of Housing Stabilization at DHCD did, indeed, call me back today.  She told me that if I wanted information about the number of people on Worthington St.'s banned list, i would have to submit a Freedom of Information request.  She said it was their policy..  I said, wasn't it more costly and staff-intensive to use a FOIA, instead of just giving me the information?  She said it was their policy.  I asked if, by the way, she could give me the figure for the number of families in shelter? (I know the motel numbers because they are posted on the DHCD website; as of Tuesday night, 2,120 families were in motels.) She said if I wanted that information, to put it in a FOIA, which is really ridiculous, because it's pretty common knowledge among providers that the number of families in  shelters about equal the motel numbers.  But still, OK, I'll put it in a FOIA.  I made a few calls to statewide allies and asked them if while I was at it, was there anything that they wanted to know from DHCD?  

We've decided our demonstration at the  Econolodge will be on Friday at 1 pm.  We'll save Worthington St. for next week.

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