Charity asked to handle charges at Arundel shelter County requests answer on alleged sex harassment

January 13, 1993|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Staff Writer

The director of Anne Arundel County's Department of Social Services wants Associated Catholic Charities of Baltimore to detail how it will deal with alleged problems at a 64-bed homeless shelter it runs for the county.

"I've requested a complete report that addresses these problems," said Edward R. Bloom, the county's DSS director. "We're going to sit down and look at whether there is evidence of these problems. If there is, we have to make it right. We need that shelter."

Mr. Bloom's request came after former and current staff members and clients of Sarah's House went public last month with several complaints, including charges of theft of donated items by employees, sexual harassment of guests and staff members and sexual liaisons between staff members and clients at the shelter, located on the grounds of Fort Meade.

Although Mr. Bloom has yet to receive the report, he said he expects it within the next few days.

Staff members, who said they feared for their jobs by speaking out, said their complaints to Catholic Charities administrators have been brushed aside in the past. They felt going public was their only chance of getting action.

"If you voiced a complaint, it was held against you. Many people became just too uptight to speak out," said one employee, who asked that her name not be used. She said harassment of certain staff members and guests by a supervisor, which has gone on for months, has not been addressed despite numerous complaints.

But administrators at Catholic Charities said they had "followed the chain of command" in dealing with staff and client complaints. All serious complaints were investigated and if substantiated, appropriate action taken, said former director Mary Lee Bradyhouse, who left Sarah's House last year for an administrative post overseeing four homeless shelters.

Peter O'Grady, who replaced Ms. Bradyhouse as director, said he called a staff meeting earlier this month for employees to air concerns.

"The meeting went as well as I hoped," he said. "It is certainly my obligation to address problems at Sarah's House, if such problems exist."

Angelo M. Boer, director of community services for Catholic Charities, said he is still in the process of gathering information and preparing a report for Mr. Bloom.

"If there are issues there, we will deal with them," he said, but added he is still not sure whether many of the problems described by employees exist.

"We have met with the staff and we have said we will deal with any problems," he said. "We're there to help people. We don't want to push issues aside."

Mr. Bloom said he will now require that all new clients at the shelter receive information during the registration process describing who they should contact if they have complaints. The Department of Social Services employs a full-time ombudsman to handle such complaints, he said, and clients or staff members should feel free to voice concerns.

He said other changes may be instituted depending on what he learns from his review.

Sarah's House, opened in 1987, operates on an annual budget of $964,000, of which $250,000 comes from Anne Arundel County, $218,000 from the state, and $354,000 from the federal government. The rest comes from contributions and miscellaneous income.

Since its opening, it has been hailed as a model homeless shelter because of its unique partnership with the U.S. Army, county and state governments and Catholic Charities. Administrators often have said the shelter's goal is not merely to put a roof over clients' heads but rather to "break the cycle of homelessness."

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