Shades of Relisha Rudd again

I was reading this article about the terrible conditions in New York City homeless shelters and I thought about the shelter Relisha Rudd lived in, and felt like crying. From the article:

Inspectors from the Department of Investigation were similarly dismayed after surveying 25 cluster site and city shelters last year. Conditions were “bluntly Dickensian,” declared DOI Commissioner Mark G. Peters when the report came out in March. They found infestations of rats, mice and roaches. Among other delights investigators observed, “a dead rat in a cluster apartment where four children lived, the decaying smell of which permeated the hallways.”

In addition to varied species of vermin, investigators discovered locked exits and blocked passageways that could obstruct escape in emergencies. In one city-run shelter, a rusted-out staircase was unusable, giving 140 residents only one way out of the building; when DOI called on the FDNY to inspect the site, they deemed the situation so dangerous they wanted to evacuate the building. Instead they made do with posting fire guards to regulate traffic in case of a fire.

They also found exposed electrical wiring and nonworking fire alarms, water damage and mold. One woman told investigators her electricity was often shut off for days at a time.

Although infractions were also found in non-profit shelters, the worst offenders were cluster site shelters (though city run shelters also had dangerous and unsanitary conditions). For the public service of taking in homeless families with vermin-infested apartments, the city paid landlords an average of $2,451 per month, according to the report (some are paid over $3,000). The market rate for regular apartments in these neighborhoods range from $528 to $1,200 a month.

(Let me emphasize here that these are NYC shelters. But Relisha’s shelter in Washington DC was very much the same. I read about one couple there that was interviewed by the Washington Post, who stayed up all night working in shifts, to keep the roaches off their sleeping baby son. That detail has stuck in my head ever since.) If a family was living in their own home with vermin everywhere and exposed wires like as described in the article, chances their kids would get taken into foster care because of “unsafe living conditions.”

Getting back to Relisha: How many other little Relishas are running around out there? God only knows what that Mr. Tatum was doing to her when no one was watching. But he took her out of that horrible environment and to a place that was quiet and clean and not overcrowded. He bought her things, made her feel special, when quite possibly no one had ever made her feel special in her entire life. That’s often how it starts, sexual abuse I mean. Relisha might have been willing to do literally anything, just to maintain that sense that she was his special little girl. (Assuming he did abuse her, a theory of which I admit is without proof at this point, but is, let’s face it, more likely than not.)

I actually talked about this with friends. Now, Relisha’s mom was, at minimum, an idiot, who had a previous history with child protective services for neglecting her kids. She was, at least, partially responsible for whatever it was that happened to her daughter. But let’s take me instead. Suppose my children and I were living in conditions like the ones in Relisha’s shelter (which I describe in her casefile as “filthy, chaotic, crime-ridden, infested with vermin and had no playground” and frankly all of that doesn’t even begin to portray how awful it was there) and there was no way of getting out any time soon. My choices are:

  1. Keep Relisha in the shelter with me, even though the environment is terrible and bugs are everywhere etc. and the staff bribe and/or coerce sexual services out of the residents and I do not have the ability to provide a safe haven for her.
  2. Let the janitor guy take Relisha to his nice clean quiet house to stay over for awhile, where at least she won’t have to deal with rats or chaos and what have you, and might be able to play outside and do stuff children are supposed to be able to do. Take into account the fact that I know the janitor is creepy and odds are he’s a pedophile.

Either option is bad. Neither is good for Relisha; both leave her open to being mistreated by other adults. And no mother should have to choose between the creepy janitor and the fourth-world conditions under which they were living.

Look…I don’t know where I’m going there…it’s just that this kind of thing really makes me sad and angry. The more so because, there but for the grace of God go I. I’ve said it before: you guys don’t know me, not really. Online I sound a lot higher functioning than I really am. In real life I am significantly impacted by my autism and mental illness and need help on a regular basis. If I didn’t have a boyfriend and a family, one that was willing and able to support me, I could end up homeless too.

Capitalist, socialist, conservative, liberal, Republican, Democrat, whatever your beliefs social, economic and political, no one should want this happening to any family. Certainly not in the richest country in the world.

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7 thoughts on “Shades of Relisha Rudd again

  1. Mia July 10, 2015 / 9:13 am

    Your self awareness is pretty remarkable. Your ability to sympathize with these cases after all this time – you haven’t become jaded – is even more so. Thanks for all you do.

  2. makoons July 12, 2015 / 7:50 pm

    As a former child protection investigator and current Guardian Ad Litem the reasoning behind not removing a child from a homeless shelter, even in those conditions, would be that it is not the parent themselves who is neglecting the children or causing the situation. You can’t legally remove a child from homeless parents. The situation is unfortunate, but by staying with her family at the shelter the mother was legally doing all she could to keep her children safe. People hate these laws when stuff like this happens, but the laws exist to protect parents from having their children removed with no reason. Imagine Relisha was in a terrible shelter but with a loving parent who saw that she got to school, was sober, generally of sound mind, and was doing what she could to get out of poverty. CPS has to operate as though each parent is trying their best and just needs services to do better.

    From reading your article, the mother reminded me a lot of mothers I’ve worked with who have traumatic brain injuries or mental illness…especially fetal alcohol syndrome. They are incredibly gullible, don’t think ahead, don’t understand long-term consequences, etc. A predator like Mr. Tatum would have no problem identifying someone so vulnerable and saying exactly what would be needed to get what he wants.

    I’m not sure what kind of voluntary services their CPS offered, but something should have been. They are required to put eyes on the kids even if they don’t remove them, so I would HOPE they actually tried to talk to Relisha before assuming everything was fine.

    Just a little more context for you. I love your site and your passion for the missing.

    • Meaghan July 12, 2015 / 11:19 pm

      Thank you for your insightful remarks.

      Out of curiosity, is it possible for parents to surrender their children to the foster system to get them out of homelessness? To, like, take them to CPS and say “I’m voluntarily surrendering Junior because, well, we live in the DC General Hospital Shelter, and you know what that’s like”? I realize many parents would be very reluctant to do this, but would the foster system accept children offered to them under those circumstances?

      • makoons July 13, 2015 / 6:47 pm

        It is possible for them to go through family court and transfer custody of the child to someone they trust (which would not have worked out for the better in this situation). I’ve seen parents give up their child when the child’s behaviors or mental health have gotten too hard to control and they’ve needed services…really they could voluntarily place their child until their housing issue is resolved. In my state they get 3 months to resolve it voluntarily , then after that it becomes a mandatory involvement with social services and after a year the court decides whether or not to permanently place the child back with the parent or someone else. Unless they’re an infant it’s not as easy as dropping them off somewhere. The County has to provide “reasonable efforts” to keep the family together.

      • Meaghan July 13, 2015 / 7:17 pm

        Relisha’s father sounds like a far more suitable parent for her (at least he had a place to live) …but there was the small matter of the fact that he was convicted of killing one of his own children. I debated whether to put his conviction in her casefile or not. I decided to do so because it answers the obvious “why does the father not have custody” question. CPS is not going to give custody to a child killer. If they did and anything happened, all hell would break loose and heads would roll etc.

        I follow the blog of a man who writes about his mentally ill son. He’s been advised to give the kid to the custody of the state, just so the boy can get necessary psychiatric services. Of course he’s horrified by the idea and says he won’t do it…but he may very well have to, for the boy’s own good. It’s so sad that parents are forced to do that for kids with mental health issues.

    • Meaghan December 8, 2015 / 12:58 am

      Today I read a follow-up article the WaPo did about Relisha’s mom and her background. It is as you thought: her own mom was a drug addict and alcoholic, she grew up in foster care as a result, she’s been diagnosed mentally disabled and spent time in hospitals and a residential treatment center for children with psychiatric problems. She was placed there after she threatened suicide and said voices were telling her to hurt her foster parents. She failed Relisha miserably but having just read about her own problems I can’t help but pity her.

  3. B. October 29, 2015 / 11:59 pm

    Why has this so called mother not been thrown in jail?! She knowingly and irresponsibly allowed her child to be groomed for only God knows what by some random creep she didn’t know from Adam himself, then placed her defenseless daughter solely under this stranger’s control. Of course Relisha is dead,because this man was so obviously a sicko pedophile! This reminds me of another similar case that happened a few years ago in Florida I believe. A little girl,Cherish Perrywinkle, and her impoverished family were randomly befriended by a man they met in a store. He bought the family stuff then told the mother that he wanted to take little Cherish to a local fast food restaurant to buy burgers and would return shortly. The mother like an idiot allowed this and predictably her little girl never made it back,rather she was sexually assaulted and murdered by this predator in sheep’s clothing. When asked what she could have possibly been thinking to place her daughter in harm’s way her only defense was, “But he was so nice to us! I didn’t know he was up to no good!” That’s exactly the point though, she DID NOT KNOW the guy and very likely wouldn’t have went anywhere with a strange man herself, so why subject your child to that kind of risk? Same with Relisha Rudd’s mother. The homeless shelter was good enough for her,her man,and sons but not Relisha. I am strongly inclined to believe that Relisha’s mother just wanted to be rid of her and would have allowed Freddy Krueger to take the girl off her hands if he had offered to.

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