A Lawsuit Against the Homeless (Lack of) Services Center

NOTE BY NORSE:  It’s ironic that it would be a Security Guard with a racial angle who exposes some of the abuses at the Homeless (Lack of) Services Center, which is currently  under heavy attack (for generally the wrong reasons) by right-wing Take Back Santa Cruz NIMBY’s.  Attempts to get fair policies for dealing with disabled people last year via then-Mayor and former HLOSC Board of Directors member Don Lane and Executive Director Monica Martinez failed to get a real hearing much less a solution.
Martinez and her bunch out there have provided testimony that helped convict homeless activists who protested the Sleeping Ban in 2010 (by falsely claiming there was “room” at the Paul Lee Loft and the River St. Shelter when the waiting list was weeks long).  They’ve resisted providing documentation that homeless people are on the Waiting List so they can present such evidence to the police to encourage no ticketing (though police then use other laws in their relentless drive to “end homelessness in Santa Cruz” (by driving homeless people out of the city and county).
Still the upchuck of vitriol and venom in the comments section following is an example of the toxic fuel that’s firing up hatred in town.  See
http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/santacruz/ci_24132950/security-guard-alleges-harassment-at-homeless-services-center?source=rss where I also leave a long comment.

Security guard alleges harassment at Homeless Services Center in Santa Cruz

By Stephen Baxter

Santa Cruz Sentinel

Posted:   09/19/2013 12:25:34 PM PDT
Click photo to enlarge

Jeremy Miller is suing the Homeless Services Center for mistreatment while he… ( Shmuel Thaler )

SANTA CRUZ — A former security guard at the Santa Cruz Homeless Services Center sued the center this week, alleging that he was harassed by its homeless clients, and wrongfully fired.


The lawsuit describes a “hostile work environment” at the center at 115 Coral St., where he was taunted with racial slurs by homeless people who ate and slept there.

“They have 101 policies and one of them needs to be to protect their employees from harassment,” said Eric Nelson, an attorney representing Jeremy Miller, the former employee.

“They could have helped their employee and they should have offered training other than ‘Just take it on the chin.'”

Miller, 32, also contends that the center did not pay him overtime or provide him proper meal breaks and work breaks. He is seeking money in the suit, but his attorneys said have not specified the amount.

A lawyer for the Homeless Services Center acknowledged Wednesday that Miller sometimes was called racial slurs by homeless clients — but he said there were far fewer instances than the daily problems Miller claimed.

The lawsuit really started with Miller’s firing, said Tom Griffin, an attorney for the center.

“It’s a very challenging group of individuals to work with,” he said of the homeless clients. “All of the people running the program have been exposed to hostile and verbal (abuse) instances in the course of their work,” he said.

“The Homeless Services Center takes their responsibilities to the community, their clients and their employees really seriously. They’re striving to do a better job with limited resources in all of those areas,” Griffin said.

Miller has lived in Santa Cruz for about 20 years and has been homeless himself. He received services as a client at the Homeless Services Center in 2011, which is where center staff got to know him.

The center provides two daily meals, showers, a mail room and beds for about 110 homeless people as well as other services on its campus. It is funded privately and also receives money from the state, Santa Cruz County and the city of Santa Cruz.

Miller volunteered there from July 2011 to March 2012, when he was hired as a campus supervisor.




A First Alarm guard often patrols outside the property, but Miller’s job as campus supervisor essentially was to patrol the lot and make sure there were no fights or illegal drug use. He wore a necklace badge and clothes similar to a mechanic — as he described it — in part because homeless clients often don’t respond well to uniformed guards.

Miller, who is black, said he was threatened several times and called the “N-word” when he tried to enforce the rules, Nelson said. He endured daily harassment and the homeless clients sometimes spit on him, pushed him and punched him, according to the lawsuit.

The threats included death threats to Miller and his family, the suit contends.

Miller said he did not receive training to deal with the center’s clients, “many of whom had serious mental disorders,” the complaint states. At least one other employee witnessed the threats — and was deposed by attorneys during settlement talks with Miller this month.

When Miller asked other staff members if he was qualified for the job, another staff member allegedly asked him, “Do you know how to take a punch?”
Griffin, an attorney for the Homeless Services Center, acknowledged it’s a difficult place to work.

“You’re talking about a group of individuals, some of which are confrontational, abusive and under the influence of a variety of intoxicants. But that’s our clientele,” Griffin said.

Because Miller had been homeless and received services at the center, the staff who hired him “were looking for a win-win situation,” Griffin said. “It turned out not to be a good fit.”

In part because Miller had been homeless and knew some of the clients, he was not universally respected in his new role.

“You have to separate yourself from people and maintain a level of professionalism,” Griffin said. Miller was unable to that, he said.

Miller’s lawsuit contends that none of the staff backed him up when he tried to enforce the rules, and that dynamic “emboldened” the homeless clients to harass him, Miller’s attorney said.




The problems continued until July Fourth, when Miller was laid off ostensibly because the job description changed and he was no longer qualified. Miller’s attorneys contend that he was fired.

“Rather than addressing the harassment, (Homeless Services Center leaders) terminated Mr. Miller, thereby furthering the discrimination and retaliating against Mr. Miller based on his race,” according to the complaint.

Miller subsequently became homeless again, and returned to the center to eat a free breakfast on July 30.

“It was extremely humbling and humiliating for him to go back for breakfast,” his attorney said.

That day, a staff member of the center came up to Miller and asked him, “What the (expletive) are you doing here? Get the (expletive) out of here,” according to the lawsuit.

Griffin said that since then, the center’s leaders have apologized and allowed him to return for meals.

The center’s leaders also hired a new supervisor who has training as a security guard, Griffin said.

Claudia Brown, board president of the Homeless Services Center, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Miller’s attorneys said they expect a response from the center’s attorneys in the coming weeks.

“I think the Homeless Services Center has recognized the importance of having a certain kind of personality — a certain skill set — to defuse and not escalate certain kinds of behaviors,” said Griffin.

“Miller didn’t have those skills and couldn’t effectively deal with them. They put some new requirements of the job to the person who comes in.”