Washington D.C. Shelter Staff Accused Of Sexual Misconduct

Posted: March 28, 2010 in Family, Government, Homeless Shelters, Homelessness, Housing, Morality

Toward the end of February I wrote a post titled, Homelessness Doesn’t Define A Person’s Character."

In it, I pointed out that homelessness is a socio-economic condition and not a character trait – and occurs when a person can no longer afford to maintain housing.

Furthermore, despite what some of the general population believe, just because a person is homeless, it doesn’t necessarily make them a "bum." Nor does it make them a person of base moral character.

Unfortunately the homeless are among the most marginalized of this nation’s citizens. Consequently, they are also among the most victimized by some of the so-called "pillars of the community."  

Yesterday while reading through the news online, I came across an article in the Washington Post. It was about a homeless shelter for families in Washington D.C. that is administered by an organization called Family Forward. And what the story reported left me with the most disgusting, gut-wrenching feeling I’ve had in quite some time. It made me extremely angry, as well.

According the article,

"… several employees of the nonprofit agency solicited and had sex with female residents."

Please note the use of the word "solicited" in that sentence because it indicates a deliberate act of victimization.

In an e-mail sent to D.C. Mayor, Adrian M. Fenty, by a resident of the shelter, along with her three daughters, said that,

"… she rebuffed the advances of a Families Forward employee who invited her to a club and said she could stay overnight at his home. Other men on the staff offered small favors in exchange for sex with homeless female residents."

That type of egregious and predatory behavior – particularly when demonstrated by those who are supposed to be providing a safe haven for the homeless – is utterly indefensible.

It is a terrible thing to be homeless, living out on the streets, and having to be concerned for one’s well-being. It is equally terrible to have to worry about one’s safety within a shelter. Worse yet, is the having to choose between the perceived lesser of two evils.

Let me make this absolutely clear: I am not attributing the actions of a handful of staff members of Family Forward to every person who works or volunteers for a homeless support services organization.

I am more than well aware that the overwhelming majority of folks who help provide services to the homeless are basically decent and caring people. They are sincerely trying to make a positive change in the lives of those who are without housing. Day in and day out, they are the ones who are on the front lines, fighting an uphill battle. And I, for one, applaud their efforts.

Nonetheless, it is the actions of a select few – like those Family Forward staff members who committed those despicable acts of sexual misconduct – that make the headlines, giving homeless support services organizations the proverbial black eye. What is more, it is those kinds of headlines that lead to the types of "horror stories" which, in turn, cause many of the homeless to recoil from wanting to stay in shelters, preferring rather to take their chances out on the streets.

I’m realistic enough to know that homelessness is a complex social issue for which there are no quick or easy solutions. Still, that doesn’t exempt us from the moral obligation of providing our nation’s homeless with effective – and safe – assistive services.

Shelters may offer temporary and immediate relief for those who find themselves on the streets. However, the only true remedy is to provide the types of services which lead to permanent re-housing as quickly as possible.

Not only is rapid re-housing of the homeless the most fiscally responsible way of addressing the issue (as shown by a recent report released by HUD this past week), it is the more humane approach as well. Furthermore, it also reduces the potential of the continued predation and victimization of the homeless.

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Comments
  1. Rev. Cynthia says:

    This really makes me wonder about what sorts of training are in place for shelter staff & volunteers and if they are being asked to sign policy forms and required to go through background checks – especially, if they are working in facilities that serve children.

    Naturally, we would like to be able to assume that everyone has a good moral compass in place and that responsible adults in positions of authority have sense enough to act wisely, but clearly that isn’t always the case.

    Michael, thanks for mentioning “rapid re-housing” and the fact that “just because a person is homeless, it doesn’t necessarily make them a “bum.” Nor does it make them a person of base moral character” – AMEN!!!

  2. Thomas says:

    I don’t condone what happened at DC General because the employees are there to assist the people needing assistance. However, this is a homeless shelter; not a mental ward. Any advances that the employees made towards the residents, the residents had the ability and capacity to say no – which evidently happened in the one resident’s case, and report it to management. Also it appears that the sexual intercourse was consensual between two adults. This kind of behavior exist in all companies and I don’t believe that an entire organization should be punished for a few idiot employees.

    • michael says:

      Thomas,

      On the surface your comment would seem to touch on a valid point. Yes, indeed it is a homeless shelter and not a mental health facility, and any advances made by staffers toward any of the residents – as you mention – could have been rebuffed.

      However, consider for a moment, that it is a family shelter. This means parents with dependent children are the primary residents. Parents who are desperate to protect their children will often times engage in behavior they might not otherwise.

      Although the sexual intercourse may have on the surface seemed consensual, there is a high likelihood that the woman who caved in to the staff members advances may have done so more out of the fear of having to be out on the streets with her children rather than because she wanted to have sex. It is therefore not unreasonable to suggest that those five staffers who were fired over the sexual misconduct may have exploited those fears to get what they wanted.

      Also, consider that this was probably not the first instance of sexual misconduct by those staffers. Thankfully, their behavior was exposed.

      – m –

      • Thomas says:

        Michael,

        I agree with you that those staffers should have been fired and their behavior exposed. The fact that these are families with dependent children needing assistance makes this kind of conduct by the staffers even more deplorable. This however doesn’t absorb the residents of their responsibility for appropriate behavior and conduct. And the correct thing to do was to immediately report the staffers’ conduct to management as did the one resident rather than consent to having sex.

        When the misconduct was reported and Families Forward’s management, they took the correct and swift action as any responsible company would do.

        I can only deal with the information provided in the articles which right now is my only source. And since nothing in the article alluded to any resident being forced to have sex for fear of having to be out on the streets, and unless you have additional facts regarding how this happened, the rest of your comments are based entirely on supposition which may or may not be true.

        • michael says:

          Thomas,

          I believe you meant to say: “This however doesn’t absolve the residents of their responsibility for appropriate behavior and conduct.”

          I understand the point you’re trying to make. However, let’s not confuse the true issue.

          Your statement unfairly shifts the burden for “doing the right thing” squarely onto the shoulders of those women and further marginalizes the victims. Moreover, it dilutes and detracts from the only relevant and irrefutable of facts: Those women should never have been propositioned by DC General Shelter staffers in the first place.

          Had those staffers not abused their positions and engaged in predatory behavior, this entire incident would have been a non-starter. Period. End of story.

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