It’s Time To Turn a Spotlight on Abuse in Colorado Homeless Shelters

“But they do such good work in the community,” I’m told. “You wouldn’t want to interfere with that, would you? Those words are all too familiar. Yes, there is much good work done for the poor and homeless by organizations and institutions, including churches, that should be applauded and supported.

However, systems like those portrayed in the recent Academy-award winning film for Best Picture, Spotlight, appear to be alive and well in Colorado shelters, including those run by faith-based institutions. The question is, does the institutional leadership know of alleged abuse? If so, what are they doing to stop it?

At one shelter, closed-door meetings, without recordings or minutes being taken, determined decisions affecting homeless residents. Verbally abusive managers allegedly demanded that homeless residents sign blank sheets of paper before notes were taken after those meetings. The residents were not given copies of those notes. The director didn’t attend those meetings, even when specifically asked to, because they allegedly “don’t want to reach in.” It’s time they did.

No school district in this nation can legally get away with having IEP (Individualized Education Plans) meetings without every single participant signing forms stating they are present and what was discussed, decided, or tabled for future conversations or testing. You can’t get a Band-Aid from your doctor without signing HIPPA forms (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act passed by Congress in 1996). It’s the same thing.

Who’s protecting the civil rights of Colorado homeless shelter residents?

A recently hired shelter manager allegedly declared to the residents in one county, “There’s a new sheriff in town.” Those residents started to feel bullied, verbally abused, and afraid of losing a warm bed on cold winter nights. “It wasn’t like this before,” some residents claim. Allegedly, the medical conditions of residents began to be ignored.

The self-proclaimed “sheriff” demanded that the sick and elderly get a job. I’m not talking about drug addicts and those who broke rules or caused trouble at the shelters. I’m talking about physically and mentally disabled residents, those who earnestly tried but could not find employment, even with the help of the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. I’m talking about those who proved they were filling out applications, going to interviews, and searching for the practically non-existent housing in this state, causing even more mental and physical anguish in the process. They were still told to get a job, in spite of protests from legal counsel and physicians.

At one resident’s last meeting, he reminded the manager and case manager that his lawyer, who had access to all his medical records, told them he was unable to work. After the lawyer’s departure, his case manger, apparently emboldened by the new sheriff’s attitude, allegedly told this resident, “Then let your lawyer take you in.”

Last month, a resident was so ill when he was told he had to leave that he didn’t even make it to a couch offered to him for the night. In “fairness,” he could have stayed two more nights. But can you imagine a formerly solid, middle class professional, brought to his knees by a catastrophic illness that cost him his home and his career, being kicked out of a homeless shelter on April Fool’s Day? I would have left early, too.

An advocate picked up this resident, monitored his exit, and planned to take him to the offered couch. Since he was obviously in poor shape, physically and mentally, the advocate took him straight to a crisis center. After intake, the center transferred him to a local hospital, so ill he was kept overnight for observation. In case you haven’t noticed, hospitals don’t admit people these days unless they clearly need to be cared for. He was transferred the next day to an acute care clinic for an indefinite period. They don’t do that much these days, either. He’s now in long-term respite care, and has spent more time in the ER for physical illness.

Non-profit organizations receive large amounts of funding from individuals, churches, organizations such as United Way, and the federal government. Hold them accountable for what goes on in their homeless shelters.

I just finished watching Spotlight for a second time. I put it off for quite some time because the subject was too close to home. I spent the better part of the last five years involved in trying to change abuse protection policies at my own alma mater, though it pained me greatly. Proofreading a 300-page church manual on abuse prevention took up months. It also took a lot out of me. I wasn’t anxious to revisit the subject anytime soon.

But when you or a loved one has been abused, it’s hard to stand by and say nothing. You recognize abuse when you see it, whether it’s physical, verbal, sexual, or spiritual abuse. It’s all bad. And it’s all wrong.

One line from Spotlight continues to haunts me:

“If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse them.”

It takes a village to allow the homeless and the weak and poor among us to be abused, too. Within minutes of posting comments about this situation on social media, I received a LinkedIn request from the shelter public relations spokesperson.

Questionable and arguably illegal practices in non-profit homeless shelters is not a public relations issue. It’s a policy and oversight issue.

Richard Gere’s recent movie, Time Out of Mind, has already exposed the realities and many of the stereotypes surrounding homelessness in America. Is it time to bring Spotlight to Colorado for a sequel?

The author is a freelance writer, editor, and a retired educator and publications coordinator. She is also a trained special needs advocate. Her work has included proofreading and edits of a widely-used church manual for sexual abuse prevention policies and procedures.

Article Source: