Behind the Curtain

In the last issue of SPARE CHANGE NEWS, there was a story of a woman, Fachon Fetters, who was being evicted from her home by Heading Home, the program that provided her with housing (“Evicted with Six Months to Live”). Apparently, Fetters, who has breast cancer, was being evicted at the behest of her seemingly abusive case manager. The eviction was stopped, but the experience took a physical and emotional toll on Fetters.
The story disgusted me, but I wasn’t shocked. The streets are littered with stories of abusive case mangers, counselors, therapists, housing advocates and so on, who bully those less fortunate than themselves. Most of these people shouldn’t be allowed to work around fish, let alone human beings; Fetters’ story just didn’t get swept under the rug fast enough.
So how do people like Fachon Fetters’ case manager get a job at a good program like Heading Home? All agencies that deal with the homeless do the required background checks. Nevertheless, just like in any other workplace, employees don’t exactly wear their personal issues for the world to see. I’ve lived and worked in some shelters where the staff is a little more “off” than the people they are serving. Anyone who’s ever been homeless for a reasonable amount of time can tell you about that particular shelter worker who just seemed to have it out for everybody, every single day.

For example, there are people who have no power or control at home, who take out their frustrations on people in the shelter that can’t defend themselves, or those on the streets. People have had things stolen from them by shelter workers, important paperwork gets misplaced by social workers, relationships get ripped apart by so-called well-meaning therapists, and shelter workers take advantage of emotionally fragile guests. Why do you think many of the homeless would rather sleep in the cold rather than go to a shelter?

What really sucks is that the good people who work in these places far outnumber the idiots, but it only takes one rotten apple to ruin the whole batch, and it often does. Fetters’ cries for help fell on the right ears, but it doesn’t always happen like that. Shelters and housing agencies are so overcrowded and understaffed that many complaints either don’t get through or are not followed up on. There is no board of directors that oversees these things, and if there is, it’s overworked too.
Heading Home is a damn good agency. I knew it when it was just School Street. It was a good stop; you had a chance to relax get your bearings and pull yourself together. As it’s grown into Heading Home, it has garnered a great reputation both on and off the street. Heading Home will survive this mess, but the story is out on the street where its reputation will suffer.

I have seen it happen all the time; a story spreads, rumors go with it, and someone who could really use a place will be discouraged from using it because of what they’ve heard. There’s no sure-fire cure to keep things like this from happening again, and that’s the saddest thing of all.

James Shearer

James Shearer is a writer and co-founder of Spare Change News.

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