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Shelter For Abused Women Under Investigation for Health Hazards

Prince George’s County’s lone domestic shelter has been rocked by a whistleblower’s recent accusations of gross negligence in maintaining livable conditions for the women and children staying at the facility.

A former employee at the Family Crisis Center of Prince George’s County, located in Brentwood, reported the nonprofit institution to authorities for substandard conditions such as mold, deteriorating wood panels, rodent infestations and indigestible food.

Over 50 women were displaced and relocated to various hotels while they wait for the facility to be brought up to code and pass a health inspection.

“We don’t really want to go back,” said two women currently stationed at the hotels. “The conditions there are horrible and no one really seems to care. Before Sophie Ford [who took over in 2015] stepped down from her role as executive director, we tried to speak out and tell her about how we were living, but she didn’t seem to care. It’s so bad here. Sometimes we think about going back to live with our abusers. At least there we know we’ll have a decent room and food despite the beatings. … A lot of us have children to raise.”

The state of the center was brought to the forefront weeks before Christmas by former employee Keiyauna Stanley, who was fired immediately after taking her claim to the board of directors.

Ford, the former executive director who spearheaded the dismissal, stepped down shortly after investigations.

“These women were displaced because of the deplorable living conditions inside of the shelter,” Stanley said. “There needs to be more accountability from the county concerning this situation and regular inspections to ensure things like this won’t happen again. In 2015 when I came on board with the shelter, I know money was given to ensure that the facility was well maintained, but that obviously didn’t happen, so there also needs to be a higher accountability and examination as to where proper funding is going.”

State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks, an advocate of domestic violence victims, also stepped in and assisted the women with their transition to the various hotels, using $1.5 million in funding allotted by the governor’s office in October for additional support for victims of domestic abuse.

John Erzen, communications director for the state’s attorney, said the money came in part to officials being aware of many of the present issues at the center.

During the immediate two-week transitional period after Ford’s departure, Andrea Morris filled in over the holidays.

“The place was filthy, but a lot of the issues are cosmetic and sanitation,” said Morris, who also sits on the nonprofit’s board of directors and is volunteering her time to bring the shelter up to standard. “We really want to do this right. That takes a little bit more time.”

Though Morris’ interim tenure ended with the new year, she too has understated the severity of the situation, said Lynn Strange, a domestic violence advocate and public relations specialist who represents some of the shelter residents.

“Morris grossly minimized the problems at the shelter,” Strange said. “When I think about these women and they way they had to live and all that they’ve been through, it makes sad to think that there isn’t a better support system in place. It’s important that people realize that this issue is very serious and to keep it in the news and media. Don’t let it die. These are lives being impacted of people who are seeking help and by no choice of their own, had to leave the shelter and be re-victimized again. If we don’t take care of this problem right and take care of it now, we’ll be revisiting this issue again in the very near future.”

Shelter residents are still awaiting inspection and an official return date. Meanwhile, Michelle Williams is the acting executive director.

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Lauren M. Poteat

Lauren Poteat is a versatile writer with a strong background in communications and media experience with an additional background in education and development.

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