Commentary by Ramona Turnbull
As an ex-resident of the Community Women’s Shelter, not to be rude, but I was greatly insulted by the response from Latonya Murray, who is the Director of Emergency Housing Services at Frontline, regarding the grievances that were forwarded to her. NEOCH staff took time to hear grievances from residents whose complaints were being ignored at the shelter. I was one of those residents until recently.
The grievances were about everything from shelter maintenance to protocol for bed rest. One complaint was about shelter maintenance concerns including toilets being stopped up on a regular basis. The toilets being stopped up is not the staff’s fault or their main concern. The concern is that “we” as residents could not do anything about it. Because it would happen so often, it would make sense that there would be “two plungers in each staff office” as Ms. Murray stated in her response. However, if there were plungers in each office, staff did not acknowledge or provide them to the residents to use. Needless to say, this caused major problems for the many women to use the few toilets available, be able to wash up or shower for the day. It made it difficult to get dressed (some before going to work), and get off the floor by 8:00am to avoid punishment.
Also, “there was a leak” in room 220, as stated by Ms. Murray which neglected to acknowledge that there were leaks in other rooms, in the hallways, and directly into the room I was in. The leak caused water to come into the room on the floor where we were sleeping. This was reported numerous times and finally a resident threatened to call a television station before they were moved. My biggest concern about this is once the tile fell in, no one did anything to replace the tile and allowed the water to leak in. They then gave us a difficult time about giving us towels or a blanket or buckets and a mop to get it up so no one would have to walk in it. The bathroom on the other side of the building leaked as you entered the bathroom so bad that we literally needed an umbrella to keep from getting wet.
Murray’s response to the mat shortage was that some residents could not get two mats, when the actual concern was about residents not being able to get one mat and instead, sleeping in chairs, the floor, or a bench in the courtyard (in the summer). Then there is what is referred to by her as the “food issue”. Undercooked chicken, rocks in the beans and concerns about the quality of the food is what she referred to. The truth of the matter is most of the time we played the “what is it game?” We rarely knew what was being served to us. To make matters worse, no special diets were honored (for diabetics or vegetarians) and the staff expected us to eat the undercooked chicken or beans with rocks in it.
Finally, staff may be trained in customer service and trauma informed care, but common courtesy and respect is still a “real” issue. It is like an infection that spreads throughout the staff and disrespect takes over their bodies. Documentation for bed rest and special diets are not honored. A second salad for a woman pregnant with twins (who is also “high risk”) that could not eat the main meal because it was so bad, was denied. Small requests are not met like a cup of coffee before leaving for work early in the morning before breakfast is served, even though you have provided a schedule as requested or required.
The staff is very insensitive to extreme conditions regarding health issues and this is very dangerous. Please understand that the Community Women’s Shelter is very much needed for homeless women, but so is common courtesy, empathy, and some consideration. These are just as important and necessary. So, again “not to be rude”, but the grievances presented to Ms. Murray are very real and desperately need to be properly addressed. The heart of the problem is that Ms. Murray and other staff just do not believe the women at the shelter. They do not investigate complaints and they do not respond in writing as the County demands. Whatever the staff reports that is the gospel truth and residents are treated like criminals, liars and crazy people. A little bit of kindness, consideration, and understanding goes a long way. But the people in charge must change their negative attitude toward residents and take grievances seriously because this brings to light the “real” problems that exist.
Copyright Cleveland Street Chronicle April 2016 Cleveland, Ohio