In Melinda's memory - Page 2

The Christmas Eve death of a homeless woman prompts questions about conditions in one of SF's largest shelters
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Residents we interviewed said their main concern about Next Door is that it doesn't seem equipped to handle medical emergencies. But they had significant gripes about aspects of everyday life at the shelter, including cleanliness and food. And their many and varied complaints had an underlying theme: that staffers often treat residents callously, as though they are something less than human – even when they're dying.

"Workers here talk to us any kind of way because we're homeless," said LaJuana Tucker, who has been living at Next Door for three months. She added that many of the people staying at Next Door are struggling with health issues but that staffers are not very understanding: "If [residents] aren't feeling well and want to lie down, they give them a hard time."

The women we spoke with said the disparaging attitude was also apparent in the shelter's response to Melinda Lindsey's death.

Three days after her apparent heart attack, they told us, shelter director Linzie Coleman set up a "grief meeting." But the residents who attended say that before their grief was addressed in any way, Coleman emphasized that related complaints were to be handled internally and that residents should not take their concerns to people outside of the shelter hierarchy.

Coleman disputed their account, telling us she stopped by merely "to say that I had gotten their complaints and their complaints would be investigated."

She said first-aid kits and CPR masks are usually available throughout the shelter and just needed to be "replenished" and that staffers treat Next Door's clientele with "dignity and respect."

"I've been here nine years and four months, and we've only had seven deaths at the shelter," she said. "And every one but this last one, the staff has done CPR."

.  .  .

Undeterred by what they say were efforts to silence them, in early January Next Door residents approached the Shelter Monitoring Committee, an oversight panel created by the Board of Supervisors, about Lindsey's death. After taking verbal and written statements from several of them, the committee tried to gather more information from the shelter.

According to a Jan. 9 letter the committee sent to several city agencies, "We immediately contacted the Director to confirm details. Our representative was met with an unprofessional and demeaning attitude and a generally hostile response to his inquiry."

Coleman said she doesn't understand the characterization of her response, but Diana Valentine, who chairs the Shelter Monitoring Committee, told us point blank, "We were treated very hostilely."

More important, she said that when members of her committee visited Next Door on Jan. 6, they found no first-aid kits or other medical equipment on the floors where most residents stay. When they asked staff people whether they'd been trained in CPR, she added, several said no. And in the short time since Lindsey's death, the committee has received another complaint about a medical emergency at Next Door that "resulted in injury to the resident."

"There's been no training, and there's absolutely no first-aid supplies available – and this is weeks after this woman's death," Valentine said. "We haven't seen any changes, consequences, or accountability."

In its letter, the committee asked the Human Services Agency, the DPH, and ECS to launch inquiries into Lindsey's death, Next Door's general policies and conditions, and how city-funded shelters are supposed to respond to emergency situations.

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