Wednesday, June 17, 2009


The office of D.C. Council member Tommy Wells is looking into the death of a homeless woman who had multiple health problems and was living on a bench outside a shelter.

Renee Page died on that wrought-iron bench on June 7. She was 51.

Wolfer King said he sensed something was wrong the last time he saw her because she sat slumped on the bench and wasn’t her normal, outspoken self.

“She just told me that she just got out of the hospital,” he said. “She showed me the band on her arm.”

She had diabetes, AIDS and pneumonia, residents said. Mr. King said he saw her drinking on the bench all the time.

“How is it that that lady lived there and died there on that bench?” asked a friend, Tawanda Glenn. “She didn’t deserve to die like that - on that bench.

Eric Sheptock, a resident at the Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV) shelter at Second and D streets Northwest, said Mrs. Page told him she had argued with another resident and had been evicted for one night. That incident occurred in mid-May.

Charles Allen, Mr. Wells’ chief of staff, said it’s too early to speculate about what happened to Mrs. Page but the council member would be concerned if Mrs. Page had been kicked out and was living right outside the shelter on a bench.

“If that were true, Mr. Wells would find that disturbing,” Mr. Allen said.

According to Mr. Allen, data in the city’s case-management system for homeless services show Mrs. Page lived at CCNV from April 14 through May 12.

Bernard Robinson, deputy executive director of CCNV, discounted the data. He said Mrs. Page stayed at the shelter from mid-March through March 31, the end of the hypothermia season.

“I used to see her during the day,” Mr. Robinson said. “But I don’t know where she was at night. I had no control over that.”

He speculated that Mrs. Page might have been accepted at another shelter. “When she left here, she might have went to John L. Young or Open Door shelters, which are all housed in this building,” Mr. Robinson said.

Nikita Wilson, case manager at Open Door, said Mrs. Page was not a resident there.

Laura Zeilinger, deputy director for program operations at the D.C. Department of Human Services, said counsel advised against releasing information on residents at the Young shelter, which is operated by Catholic Charities.

“Catholic Charities extends its prayers and deepest sympathies to the family of a woman who was homeless and passed away on Sunday, June 7,” Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington said in an e-mail to The Washington Times. “As a service provider to individuals and families who are in a homeless situation, this loss is a hard reminder of the importance of caring for our most vulnerable neighbors by treating the underlying symptoms and causes of homelessness - availability of affordable housing, job and education training and accessible health care among others. We ask that the entire community keep individuals and families without a home in their prayers.”

Shelter residents said Mrs. Page didn’t complain about her ill health while living on the bench.

“When it was raining and thundering, she still sat outside,” said Warren Allen, who has been living at CCNV for the past year.

On June 8, Mrs. Page’s friends stood somberly at the bench where the “nice lady” had lived and died. In memoriam, they adorned it with flowers, beads, candles, photos and farewell notes.

Richard Atchison recalled the day Mrs. Page died: “When I come down the street and saw that the medical examiners were here, and they were putting her in the body bag, that was really disturbing to me because it had me crying.”

The Rev. Dean Snyder of Foundry United Methodist Church said, “There has to be a more merciful way to address the problem of chronic homelessness in the District.”

Why Mrs. Page left CCNV has not been determined, Charles Allen said, adding that he is looking into the facts of her case.

• Joseph Young is a writer and photographer living in the District.

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