Taking responsibility

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 28, 2004

Early Tuesday evening managing editor Luefras Robinson was in a little panic of sorts. We were three hours to deadline, she was just getting started on laying out Wednesday’s paper, and all the news staffers had left for the day.

Robinson said she had just heard that the Suffolk Homeless Shelter had evicted all the families.

&uot;Don’t they do that every year?&uot; I asked, recalling us reporting on this in the past.

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I volunteered to work on the paper layout while Luefras started tracking down and writing the story of the shelter evicting six families, two days prior to Thanksgiving.

She left messages for shelter director Terry Miller, but was unable to reach her. City Manager R. Steven Herbert was most cooperative and gave Luefras the low down on what the city was doing to take care of the evicted wretches.

I was genuinely proud of the city’s response to the situation. They’ve taken a lot of heat in recent weeks over issues dealing with the poor. I thought they acted admirably.

While we were unable to reach Miller, we had heard that those evicted were guilty of some shelter policy transgressions and that was the reason for the evictions. I had my doubts about this since this was not the first time this had happened. I’m certain individuals are evicted all the time for various reasons, but it seems as if the only time we ever hear of wholesale shelter evictions is around the holidays, conveniently giving shelter staff some time off.

My wife saw it on the TV news that night and read the published accounts on Wednesday. She was disturbed because it involved children – children and dogs are her big causes. A recounting of how the one young mother and her 3-month-old child had already spent a night in their car at the Wal-Mart parking lot about sent her over the edge. She spent the bulk of Thanksgiving Day rummaging through old baby clothes and toys that we still had stored, putting together a care package for the children, which she took to the local hotel that evening.

She came home in tears.

&uot;You’d thought I’d just handed them a million dollars,&uot; she said of the way the children jumped for joy at the stuffed animals she had brought them.

The baby and her mother were not there when she took the toys so she left our phone number for her to call to see if there was anything we could do for her. The mother called on Friday morning. The baby was sick with a cold and could be heard crying in the background. She also needed diapers.

Cathy bought some Infant Tylenol and diapers to take to them. She met the 19-year-old mother and talked to her for a while, to see if she had any idea what she would do after their hotel stay ran out. She dragged me along to keep her from inviting them to live in our house, which she probably would have done, like she has so many times over the years with all the stray dogs, had I not been there.

The girl said the baby’s father had just given her $250 to put down on an apartment, mighty big of him, I suppose, in lieu of taking full responsibility for what he had helped create.

Probably because of how stirred up my wife was, I came down pretty hard on the shelter in an editorial on Friday, going so far as to suggest disciplinary action and that funding be withheld. I received a call on Friday from a local minister, chastising me somewhat for the editorial and suggesting that the transgressions that resulted in the evictions were real and egregious and that it was not just an effort to get a day off work.

&uot;People sometimes use children to manipulate others,&uot; he said.

That may well be the case here, and I know that I can be a bit of a sucker at times. Still, I can’t imagine any circumstance that would justify turning children out into the street, regardless of what the parents had done.

As such, I stand behind what I wrote on Friday. As prosperous as Suffolk is, there’s no reason any child should not have a roof over his or her head and food to eat.

I know that 90 percent of the time, the Suffolk Homeless Shelter does fine work and that the community is fortunate to have it, along with those who work there. And if it requires additional funding to see to it that children are never turned out, then we need to find a way to see to it that it gets it.

Andy Prutsok is editor and publisher of the News-Herald. He can be reached at 934-9611, or via e-mail at andy.prutsok@suffolknewsherald.com