The story broke on a simple blog site...The Tallahassee Grapevine. Soon the story of inappropriate, unethical, and borderline illegal actions at a local homeless shelter went viral. Enough so that some one went to the effort to hack into the website and take down the article. Whoever enjoyed limited success. But, the story is back.
Here are some observations (in no particular order).
- The Director of The Shelter, Mel Eby, was recently named the Tallahassee Democrat's Person of The Year. He accepted the award and had the story listed on The Shelter's website where he is lauded as "legendary". However, Mr. Eby is rather aloof when questions are raised and he refused to return calls from WFLA. Perhaps questions from the organization that just honored him, the Tallahassee Democrat, came a little easier.
- Though the work Mr. Eby has done is commendable he is describe by many, including some elected leaders as one "who doesn't play well with others."
- In a story on the Tallahassee Democrat, Mr. Eby offered this opinion of Mrs. Renee Miller: “She is trying to make a name for herself as a homeless advocate,” Eby said, responding to a question about why Miller chose not come to him and the board with her account. “It wouldn’t make a splash coming to me. I would have resolved it.”“She has no idea about how I handle things,” Eby said.
- Resolved it. What does that mean? Mrs. Miller claims that Eby has been sweeping things under the rug for years. Maybe that's what he means...maybe not.
- Every other person related to the story, contacted by various media outlets including TMS with Preston Scott, is taking the allegations very seriously and not one has attempted to impugn the integrity and question the motives of Mrs. Miller...except Mr. Eby.
- There must be something to the story because an unnamed staff member has been suspended and placed on unpaid leave.
- Allegations and questions are now being raised of Shelter "residents" signing over Social Security or disability checks to someone on the "staff", but never receiving the benefits.
- The Shelter Board of Directors expressed regret that Mrs. Miller did not come to them. However, she did the right thing in calling the police. It should be noted that on The Shelter website there is only one member of The Board that lists an e-mail address and he is a doctor. It may not be very easy to contact The Board. I have tried to do so through The Shelter e-mail address and have yet to receive a response.
- Mrs. Miller's social work (and many others in the region) actually compliments the work done at The Shelter, which is why clients of both move easily back and forth making use of the services each offers. The fact is that City Walk (Mrs. Miller's ministry) and The Shelter offer very different programs. It's apples and oranges.
How deep does the rabbit hole go? More and more people are coming out - clients, volunteers; each with their own account of problems. Some talk of the treatment of the homeless that come through The Shelter, others the conditions of the facility, many both.
From my chair Mel Eby has done work that most would rather not take part in and that should be (and is) appreciated. But, something is wrong at The Shelter. I have absolutely no doubt of the veracity of Renee Miller's account of her visit to The Shelter.
City Manager Anita Favors Thompson has asked Tallahassee Police to investigate. When police came to The Shelter when Mrs. Miller called officers told her there was no crime however disgusting her treatment. Perhaps police will find that there have been sexual encounters forced on female residents of The Shelter. We'll see.
Regardless of the outcome of the investigation there are clearly questions that demand answers and problems that need fixing. That is up to City and County Commissioners, Board members and donors (like the United Way of The Big Bend) because I doubt that Mr. Eby is interested in doing anything without being forced to or he would have addressed these issues already.
People get comfortable when the public money flows and that's likely what has happened here. With all due respect Mr. Eby really does not have to go around and beg for funding like most other local organizations do; he has set pools of money that flow...a lot of money.
We all have opinions on how the homeless situation, whether locally or nationally, ought to be handled. However I think we can agree on this...they are human beings that should be treated with a basic level of decency and that includes at The Shelter, whether Mr. Eby wants to hear from us or not.