I Went Undercover at a Homeless Shelter -- You Wouldn't Believe the Shocking Abuses I Found There
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I said no.
I decided the stories I had been hearing are true. I experienced the abuse first hand.
I had two babies and a husband at home and it was late and I better get going.But to sign out, I had to get past the solicitor. I got scared.
I went into the bathroom and called the police. I told them what I was doing and to ask for my fake name at the front desk and have me come outside.
They arrived and my stalker wanted to come with me to talk to the police. I told the police I wanted to talk to them alone.
We went outside and I told them the story. They 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. So they gave me a ride back to my car.
As I was inside, I was able to talk to many of the women that stayed there, some with children.
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.
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."
If a woman decides to stick up for herself she is threatened with a call to DCF to have her children taken away. If she further complains, she is threatened with being banned from The Shelter, then a call to DCF because she has her children sleeping in the street. She just has to sit there and take the insults and cursewords as they are spewed out at her.
One women told me, “He knows we’re powerless here and he can treat us however he wants. I can’t go to anyone because I don’t want to risk having nowhere to go and losing my kids.”
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.
One woman told me, "We just learn to live with it. It's better than having your kids sleep outside."
I don't believe in coddling people. It should not be "easy" to be homeless or that takes away the incentive of finding a way out. However, for many, finding themself homeless takes away much of their dignity. They don't need to be verbally abused, assaulted or treated with such disrepect, especially from the staff that is hired to care for them - especially with your tax dollars and donations.
Don't take away whatever dignity they have left.
That night, word got around at The Shelter about what I did. Monday morning, as we were opening City Walk, George (a homeless volunteer that stays at TheShelter) excitedly came to get me.
"Renee, come outside, hurry."
I go out front and look up at 7th Avenue - a large group of women, men and kids were walking towards City Walk - some with no shoes, some pushing baby strollers, some I had never seen before.
George said, "They know what you did last night and are here to see you."
I was already bawling my eyes out when they finally crossed Thomasville Road.