State police probe shelter

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 27, 2005

State authorities are spearheading an investigation into the Suffolk Shelter for the Homeless.

&uot;An investigation is ongoing,&uot; said Sammy Carr, spokesman for the Virginia State Police, on Thursday. He refused to discuss the focus of the probe or whether it involves the facility’s former executive director, who abruptly resigned last week.

Terry Miller, head of the shelter since October 2000, stepped down at the request of the organization’s 13-member board of directors. Although board members refused to comment, Miller said last week that the action came after she was unable to give board members a detailed accounting of her work mileage since July 2003. She said she typically logged about 700 miles weekly in job travels.

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According to the shelter’s 2004 tax return, the shelter paid employees nearly $12,500 in mileage. Most of that money went to her, Miller said.

News of the investigation comes on the heels of the city’s decision earlier this week to withhold federal grant money and the city’s annual allocation until changes are made in the shelter’s operations. This year, the shelter received $65,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant money through the city.

Also, the Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority didn’t give the shelter its usual $25,000 allocation this year.

The funding reduction accounts for nearly half – $123,000 – of the shelter’s $300,000 annual budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The money is still in the city’s budget, said city spokesman Dennis Craff. Late Thursday, he said he was unaware of the state police investigation.

&uot;Regardless of what is going on, our main concern is that the shelter is serving the population it is intended to serve,&uot; Craff said. &uot;We want some assurances the money is going to be spent where it needs to be spent…which is on the homeless.

&uot;We want better accounting for the money and we want some assurance the shelter is going to be open 365 days a year.&uot;

Miller’s policy of closing the shelter on major holidays – Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter – when possible has drawn a wave of negative publicity in recent months.

The shelter hit the media spotlight most recently after Miller evicted six women and their 11 children just days before Thanksgiving last year. Despite the timing, the residents were evicted because of continued violations of shelter rules, according to documentation provided by the shelter.

James Caton, a spokesman for the shelter’s board of directors, refused to comment on the state police investigation.

Miller, when contacted Thursday, said she didn’t know about it.

&uot;I wasn’t even aware of it,&uot; Miller said. She said she didn’t know of any reason that state authorities would be probing the shelter’s operation.