Report claims rampant abuse at homeless shelters
By Tamara Barak
May 16, 2007
Homeless advocates in San Francisco today released a report
claiming rampant abuse in city-funded shelters.
The report, called Shelter Shock, was put out by the Coalition
on Homelessness organization. It is the result of interviews with
215 shelter residents documenting human rights abuses, said organizing
director Jennifer Friedenbach.
According to the survey, 55 percent of respondents said they
have experienced some form of abuse while staying at a San Francisco
homeless shelter. Verbal abuse was most common, with 44 percent
citing it as something they had endured. However, 14 percent said
they were victims of physical violence, and 4 percent claimed
to have experienced sexual abuse in a city shelter.
A third of respondents said that they do not feel safe, either
due to rude and neglectful staff members, physical violence, stealing
More than half of the homeless people surveyed - 56 percent -
said their suggestions or complaints were ignored and that their
dietary needs were not met.
Shelters consistently fail to provide basic hygiene supplies,
Friedenbach said. About 27 percent of survey respondents said
they did not have access to toilet paper, feminine hygiene products
Recent shelter resident Tomas Picarello said it was outrageous
that basic needs were being ignored in such a wealthy city.
Picarello asked, "In a city with a $125 million budget surplus
last year, why are we talking about toilet paper?"
Friedenbach said about half of those who responded to the survey
had physical or psychiatric disabilities. She noted that a full
quarter of complaints made to the Mayor's Office on Disability
regarding inadequate facilities involve homeless shelters.
"It would be far too easy to blame front line staff at shelters
for these abuses. That would be a mistake," she said. "The
true fault lies with city administrators and policymakers who
have allowed this situation to go on unchecked."
Friedenbach called for legislation that would enforce standards
of care, training of shelter employees, and a system for lodging
complaints against shelters.
San Francisco Supervisor Tom Ammiano said he was "shocked
and appalled" by the report's findings.
"The conditions they have found in the shelters are barbaric,"
he said. "If we were going to be judged by how we treat our
less fortunate in San Francisco, we'd get an F. I know that's
not where we want to be."
Lauren Livengood of the Mayor's Office of Communication said
Mayor Gavin Newsom had not yet seen the report and did not have
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