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Shelter Report: Bed Bugs to Sex Offenders

By: Gina Pitisci; Julie Montanaro; Garin Flowers Email
By: Gina Pitisci; Julie Montanaro; Garin Flowers Email
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UPDATED
By Julie Montanaro
March 6, 2013

The board president says the Shelter does not screen for sex offenders and will not screen for them at nightly check in.

A report made public by the United Way earlier this week indicated there are sex offenders who claim the Shelter as their temporary or permanent address. FDLE's web site listed 24 of them.

The president of the Shelter board points out that doesn't mean they stay there regularly.

"We have an open door policy. Anyone who comes to our facility for three meals and a safe place to put their heads, we accept them and that policy ... there's no conversation about changing that policy," said board chair Deborah Holt.

Holt says once TPD notified them about the sex offenders there, the Shelter started taking precautions to make sure they are not in contact with women and children. They promptly moved women with children to spend the night at the Day Center next door.

Holt says opening a faciity for just women and children is a priority, but funding is limited and a recent attempt to open one on Virginia Street failed because they could not get a permit for it.


UPDATED
By Julie Montanaro
March 5, 2013

A 15 page report on conditions at the Shelter reveals there are sex offenders living there and until now they've been spending the night in the same building as women and children.

The Shelter board says that won't happen anymore.

It's right there on page 8. Known sex offenders are listing the Shelter as their home.

We checked the FDLE web site and found 24 of them ... including one sexual predator ... who registered 480 West Tennessee as their temporary, or in most cases, permanent address.

It came as quite a surprise to a woman who has called the shelter home for the past four months.

"I didn't even know that. I wish they would have told me ... that way .. uh, uh, that's definitely why children shouldn't be over there."

The Shelter Board reports as soon as it was notified of the sex offenders living there, it decided to move women and children next door to the Day Center to spend the night.

"Our shelter's policy has always been you need a place to stay, here's a place to stay and I think once this was brought to their attention, I think they've been extremely urgent in how they're dealing with it. It was immediate," said United Way President Heather Mitchell.

The report says the law doesn't forbid sex offenders from living in homeless shelters, but the board says it will not allow children to be in the same building with them.

The Day Center will have to do, the report said, until the Shelter can come up with a better long term solution.

"I think they (women and children) should have their own building," a homeless man said as he finished his lunch behind the Shelter.

He's lived at the shelter off and on for 15 years. He says he doesn't think they should allow sex offenders at the Shelter at all

"Children don't need to be in an environment with sex offenders at all. It makes me real upset there was one here," he said.


UPDATED
By Julie Montanaro
March 4, 2013

The United Way has released a 15 page report from the Shelter board that includes answers to questions about everything from bed bugs to sex offenders.

It shows Tallahassee Police informed the shelter board on February 21st that several known sex offenders list the shelter as their primary address.

On the FDLE web site, we counted 23 sex offenders and one sexual predator who list 480 West Tennessee Street as either their permanent or temporary address.

The board instructed staff to have all women and children spend the night at the Day Center next door until they can find a more permanent solution to keep children and sex offenders apart.

The report says sex offenders are not prohibited from being in homeless shelters, but the Shelter board says it will not allow children to be in the same building as sex offenders.

The Shelter board reported it has made several changes since a pastor claimed she was propositioned and reported her experiences in a blog last month:

-All new employees must sign a letter acknowledging that they read and understood the Shelter's personnel policies, including those on sexual harrassment

- The board has arranged for the director of the Refuge House to provide sexual harrassment training to staff

- The Shelter is modifying forms for guests and volunteers that clearly outline the sexual harrassment policy

- New clients will receive a client's rights form at intake and the Shelter is considering exit evaluations as well

- The Shelter is having women and children spend the night at the Day Center to ensure they are further separated from known sex offenders staying in the men's dorm until Shelter can come up with more permanent solution

- FSU Social Work professor has designed training sessions for employees at The Shelter on how to work with the at risk population

- The Shelter has hired a female staff member to oversee the women's section at the Shelter

- There's now a confidential suggestion box that only board's executive committee can access


UPDATED
By Julie Montanaro
February 25, 2013

The United Way of the Big Bend wants answers from The Shelter by the end of the week.

The United Way president wants the shelter board to address five key areas ... including safety, staffing, treatment of clients and the sexual harrassment allegations levelled by a local pastor.

The United Way has asked the Shelter board to submit its report by March 1st.

It also wants the Shelter to have an independent review of its policies and procedures finished by April 30th.

"It's your dollars. It's my dollars. It's the donor money and we all felt very strongly that we needed to ensure this at risk population is in a safe, secure environment and that the donor money that is being spent is to ensure that is happening," UWBB President Heather Mitchell said.

The Shelter gets the bulk of its funding from the United Way through the Community Human Services Partnership. That funding amounted to $402,000 last year.

"Are they at risk of losing the funding from the United Way?"

"At this point, no. We laid our concerns out. They laid out how they are addressing those concerns. They've been more than willing to work with us," Mitchell said.


United Way Release: United Way Addresses Issues with The Shelter Board

TALLAHASSEE, Fla., February 25, 2013 – United Way of the Big Bend met with The Shelter Board’s Executive Committee to discuss the current issues and allegations that have been aired. The purpose of the meeting was to:

 relay our strong belief that this community must have an emergency shelter that is fully operational and provides a safe environment for this significant at-risk population;

 request detailed information responsive to a range of allegations that have been made about The Shelter; and,

 insist, as The Shelter’s major funder, on development of an effective plan for moving forward to ensure the viability and stability of this important agency.

We were pleased that their members were extremely responsive to our inquiries, bringing their own current plan of action and updating us on actions they have taken to date regarding allegations made. They are working hard to address the alleged issues.
After our discussion of their current status, United Way requested the following of them:

1. Submit a Report that Addresses 5 Issue Areas
We posed relevant questions into five subject areas and asked that they submit a full report to us by March 1, 2013. There are specific questions asked under each of these subjects as they related to various allegations of abuse, mismanagement and safety issues.
a. Safety of the Facility
b. Sexual Harassment
c. Treatment of the Clients
d. Staffing Concerns
e. Moving Forward

2. Conduct an Independent Study of the Protocols, Policies and Procedures of The Shelter
This is to be done by an outside expert source, knowledgeable of homeless shelters and this at-risk population, and approved by both the United Way of the Big Bend Board of Directors and The Shelter’s Board of Directors. Source should have complete and total access to workings of the shelter, both administrative and program, to accurately assess current status. Timeline for this assessment is to be complete by April 30, 2013.

United Way has a long standing working relationship with The Shelter – providing significant funding to them through the Community Human Services Partnership to ensure that the homeless have safe shelter. The Shelter’s board representatives were agreeable to both of these requests and as such we are confident in our action plan and are moving forward in a positive spirit of cooperation, coupled with an appropriate sense of urgency.

# # #
United Way of the Big Bend serves eight counties. In our 70 year history, we have invested over $100 million help those in need, and worked to find solutions for issues facing our community. Our work addresses basic needs, helps families become financially stable and provides opportunities for children and youth to succeed. For more information, please visit us online - www.uwbb


By Mike Springer
February 23, 2013

Tallahassee, FL-A week after allegations of rampant bed bugs and misconduct by staff, two employees of 'The Shelter' are out and its executive director is placed on administrative leave.

At the center of it all is Renee Miller. Miller runs Tallahassee's City Walk Urban Mission and works with the City's homeless.

"I thought that the community would put some pressure on the powers that be and that some changes would be made, but I honestly thought it would be a lot slower of a process," said Miller

Miller spent a night undercover at 'The Shelter' after she says she heard stories of abuse and mistreatment.

While at 'The Shelter', Miller claims a staff member propositioned her for sex and she others express concern over bed bugs. Miller's allegations led to a full investigation by the Tallahassee Police Department and the removal of 'The Shelter's' long-time executive director Mel Eby.

"The sheep follow the shepherd and it's up to the boss to know what's going on and so if you can't handle what's under you then maybe you shouldn't be in leadership," said Miller.

The Shelter's board named Jacob Reiter interim director. Reiter terminated two employees and plans to hire a woman to manage the women and children's side of 'The Shelter.'

Still, Miller says she wants to see more done including better pest control.

"I'm getting there. I definitely think it's a step in the right direction. Let's not quit now. We have more to do. But I applaud them. I think the board's doing a good job," she said.

The Shelter's board members expect the report from the Tallahassee Police Department to be done some time in the next month or so.

Once that investigation is complete, the board says it will make its decision on Eby's future status at 'The Shelter.'
--------------------------------
By: Gina Pitisci

Tallahassee, FL – According to The Shelter board member, David Maloney, "The Shelter board placed Mel Eby, the Executive Director of The Shelter on voluntary administrative leave, effective immediately." This action was taken while the ongoing investigation on activities at The Shelter is conducted by the Tallahassee Police Department. Maloney says "the Executive Board and The Shelter board pledge that when the report of the Tallahassee Police Department is issued, we will take whatever action appears to be appropriate and we will do it promptly."

Two additional shelter employees are also being dismissed for not meeting employment standards. One of them was the employee placed on leave last week following Renee Millers sexual harassment allegations when she went undercover at The Shelter. Priscilla Tharpe, Vice Chair of The Shelter says “our investigations are showing that with some of the complaints that he does not need to be an employee of The Shelter and the other one that's come up in some of the discussions we've had with guests and some of the follow up that we've done and that person is also being placed on leave."

Jacob Reiter has been named acting Interim Director of The Shelter where he has been a paid employee for several years. Maloney says "he is in the Masters Clinical Social Work program at FSU, he has an excellent reputation and he is well known by all of the other homeless providers."

This year is the 25th anniversary of the shelter and Mel Eby has been there since the very beginning. When asked if he could come back, Tharpe says "his heart is for The Shelter" and Maloney states "it's all going to depend on what comes out of the investigations." According to board members, they do not expect the police report to be complete for at least a week and could take as long as a month. Once the investigation is complete, they will make a decision on Mel Eby's future employment with The Shelter. We reached out to Renee Miller this evening for a statement on her reaction to tonight’s decisions and at this point, have not heard back from her.


Board of Directors, Tallahassee-Leon Shelter Release

The Shelter’s Board of Directors placed its Executive Director Mel Eby, on voluntary administrative leave today effective immediately.

The action was taken while an investigation into activities at the Shelter conducted by the Tallahassee Police Department (TPD) is ongoing and with which the Shelter continues to cooperate to the fullest extent.

Mr. Eby’s status is not a reflection of his integrity nor is it the result of substantiation of the allegations raised in the internet blog that led to the TPD investigation.

The Executive Director’s status will be reviewed by the Shelter Board at the time that TPD releases its report, expected to occur in early March.

The Shelter Board reiterates its pledge to the City of Tallahassee, Leon County, the Shelter’s funders, donors, staff and volunteers throughout the Big Bend Region and, most especially, to those whose needs are met by Shelter services, that it will promptly take all action determined to be appropriate following the release of TPD’s report.


Board of Directors, Tallahassee-Leon Shelter Release

RE: Shelter Acting Director Named

Jacob Reiter, an employee of the Shelter, was named Acting Director of the Shelter immediately following the placement of the Shelter’s Executive Director on administrative leave.

Mr. Reiter has worked with the Shelter through VISTA and as a paid employee for several years. He is currently in a Masters of Social Work Program at the FSU College of Social Work.

Professor Tomi Gomory of the College of Social Work and a member of the Shelter Board said, “I know at this difficult time for the Shelter that Jacob Reiter is exactly the right person for the demanding job of Acting Executive Director. Along with the Shelter Board and the many providers of homeless services in the community, I have full confidence in Jake.”

RE: Shelter Comings and Goings

Among Acting Director Reiter’s first actions were the announcement that he would hire a woman to manage the woman and children’s side of the Shelter. He also dismissed two employees, including the employees accused by Renee Miller in her internet blog that led to an ongoing investigation by the Tallahassee Police Department. Director Reiter explained that the employee accused by Ms. Miller was not dismissed on the basis of Ms. Miller’s as-yet unsubstantiated allegations but on the basis of the employee’s failure to meet employment standards implemented at the Shelter.


Wednesday, board members for Tallahassee's homeless shelter held interviews with guests about possible misconduct on the job.

It's the latest in a story we broke last week, after a pastor who went undercover there claims she was propositioned by a staff member.

Board members are waiting for the city to finish a report it's conducting, but holding their own internal investigation in the mean time.

They want to know if shelter guests have experienced sexual harassment or any other issues they need to address.

"We had several ladies come in, they say there were no sexual harassment, they had no knowledge of any and they had not experienced it themselves," said shelter board member Priscilla Tharpe.

"I think the community is kind of coming together about this in unity in order to address what's a very serious problem," said board member David Maloney.

The board members say they met with police today and are waiting for them to finish their investigation. However, they don't know when that will be.

So far no other guests of the shelter have reported to them claims of sexual harassment.


UPDATED
By Julie Montanaro
February 20, 2013

Board members at The Shelter in Tallahassee are interviewing guests tonight about sexual harrassment allegations and other concerns.

It's the latest in a story we first brought you last week, after a pastor who went undercover at the Shelter claimed she was propositioned by a sfaff member.

Pastor Renee Miller detailed her experiences in a blog on line.

This evening, board members will be interviewing shelter guests.
They want to know if they've experienced sexual harrassment - or if there are any other health and safety issues they need to address.

They are conducting their own internal investigation while Tallahassee Police work on theirs.

Tallahassee Police say they are still working on their investigation into the sexual harassment claims. We'll let you know when that report is ready.


UPDATED
By Garin Flowers:
February 20, 2013

The Shelter's executive board met Tuesday evening to discuss sexual harassment allegations leveled by a pastor who spent one night undercover there.

This is the first time the entire board for the Shelter met since the allegations made last week.

According to several board members, they say the meeting was to update the other members on what's been going on.

The whole incident unfolded last week. A pastor who works with the homeless went undercover there for a night and claims she was propositioned by a staff member. She relayed all of this on a blog.

The blog about it all came as a shock to the Shelter board. The board's vice chair said the employee in question was placed on unpaid leave immediately. He was told not to report to work Thursday night.

On Friday, Tallahassee's city manager asked Tallahassee Police to investigate further. TPD spokesman David Northway says that investigation is still under way and he did not have a target date for its completion.

"We're anxiously awaiting the police report that was ordered last Friday by the city of Tallahassee, so that we can find out what the police discovered on any further investigation," said board member Priscilla Tharpe.

"We welcome that investigation and we pledged at that moment to cooperate to the fullest extent possible and we're looking forward to a report from TPD that will be as exhaustive as possible in the circumstances," said board member David Maloney.

The board has their own internal investigation along with the one being conducted by Tallahassee police.

Board members say they have a meeting with police and the United Way this week. They continued to stress to us that if the allegations are true, this is something they will not tolerate, but they hope the investigation by TPD will help them conclude their investigation.

One member wanted to remind the community of the 25 years of service they've provided to the community and hope to provide for many more years to come.


UPDATED
By Julie Montanaro
February 19, 2013

The Shelter's executive board met tonight to discuss sexual harassment allegations leveled by a pastor who spent one night undercover there.

On Friday, Tallahassee's city manager asked Tallahassee Police to investigate further. TPD spokesman David Northway says that investigation is still under way and he did not have a target date for its completion.


UPDATED
By Julie Montanaro
February 15, 2013

Claims of sexual harassment at the Shelter in Tallahassee have prompted two new investigations.

As we first reported last night, a pastor who works with the homeless went undercover there for a night and claims she was propositioned by a staff member.

He's been placed on leave and there's a meeting at 5 o'clock today to determine what happens next.

A missionary who works with the homeless says she spent just a few hours in disguise at The Shelter and was propositioned by a staff member before she even signed in.

"He says you don't want to stay in there, you wanna come with me at my house. I will take you to McDonalds," Miller said.

"We are taking the allegations very seriously," board member David Maloney said.

Renee Miller's blog about it all stunned the Shelter Board. The board's vice chair says the employee in question was placed on unpaid leave immediately. He was told not to report to work Thursday night.

The board scheduled three emergency meetings today including one at 5 o'clock with the staff member who's accused of propositioning Miller.

"If the employee admits the allegation, I think he'll be fired on the spot, if the employee denies the allegation, there's going to have to be an investigation," Maloney said.

Tallahassee Police say they were called to the Shelter that night, but did not write a report and based on Miller's comments did not find a crime was committed.

The city manager has asked the police chief to circle back to be sure.

"The city manager has asked the police chief to talk to the woman who wrote the blog post, talk to shelter clients, talk to shelter staff ... and the real purpose is to determine is there any additional law enforcement issues that need to be looked into," said city spokeswoman Michelle Bono.

According to Bono, The Shelter receives $402,000 in United Way funding as part of the city and county's Community Human Services Partnership. She says the city has no oversight of the Shelter's operations.

Leon County Administrator Vince Long said the same thing, but he said the missionary's allegations of sexual harassment - and everything from bed bugs to missing backpacks - ""has our attention."

The Shelter's board members are just asking the community to consider its decades long track record of free services and not to rush to judgment on these allegations.

"We hope to have the opportunity to give us a chance to find out what is going on and know that as a board we will follow up and any wrongdoing will be righted," said board vice-chair Prsicilla Tharpe.

A 5 o'clock meeting among the shelter's executive board, attorneys and the employee accused of harassment has just wrapped up.

A board spokesman says the employee will remain on leave without pay until they can investigate further. They will hire an independent employment lawyer to conduct the investigation.


WCTV will bring you more on this story tonight on Eyewitness News.


By: Gina Pitisci
February 14, 2013

Tallahassee, FL - A local woman who works with the homeless everyday heard complaints about the Shelter before, but after several weeks of hearing the same complaints, decided to do something about it.

Renee Miller, Director, City Walk Urban Missions: "He says you don't want to stay in there... You want to come stay with me, I'll take you to McDonalds."

According to Renee Miller, that was what she was told upon checking in at the Shelter when she went undercover as a homeless woman for the night.

Renee Miller, Director, City Walk Urban Missions: "I asked for a drink of water when I got there, and the guy who had asked me for sex handed me a half drank bottle of his own water-- I couldn't even get clean water from a spigot, or something in a cup."

The Executive Director of the Shelter says that although events like this are uncommon they plan to look into the issue further.

Mel Eby, Executive Director, the Shelter: "it's possible, it's possible any place and we'll investigate and of course we wouldn't tolerate anything like that. We're going to investigate to look more into it and if there is any truth to it, we'll take action."

While undercover, Renee also met a woman who was bit multiple times by bed bugs at the shelter.

Mel Eby, Executive Director, the Shelter: "The bed bugs have been a problem all over town, including in the FSU dorms, and we keep working on it, it's not like we ignore it, but the problem is there are so many transients coming in with new luggage and new belongings and they could be bringing them in."

Two local homeless men also gave their opinion of the Shelter and their experience while staying there.

Joshua Horne, one homeless man, stated, "It's alright, Mel's a good guy, he really is, he's trying to help people."

H.B., one homeless man, adds, "At the Shelter, to me, the people ain't right. See they'll keep you there, they'll feed you, but when someone else thought that you are trouble, they'll put you out and let them stay in there. It ain't right."

If you would like to help the homeless in our area, City Walk Urban Missions accepts clothes, household items and monetary donations at their thrift store. They are located at 1351 Thomasville Road in Tallahassee and the proceeds go back to helping the homeless or ex-offenders.

To read Renee Miller's full blog post, "Undercover at the Shelter", go to http://www.tallahasseegrapevine.com/blog/view/id_4230/title_undercover-at-the-shelter-in-tallahassee/.


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