A dozen women living at the House of Ruth, a facility in Washington for homeless and destitute women, were told last week that they no longer may spend their days at the shelter, under a new policy adopted by the home.
Under the controversial policy, homeless, destitute women may come to the House of Ruth for dinner between 5 and 7 p.m. and may stay overnight, but they must be out of the house by 10 a.m. the next morning, said Veronica Maz, executive director of the facility at 459 Massachusetts Ave. NW. Any woman who still needs shelter at the end of the day may return that night if there is room, she said.
The new policy met a storm of protest from the women who were ousted from the facility last week and from others supporting them.
Maz said that the policy is designed to "shake people up" and described the move as one that was necessary.
"We've had people come here and stay here all day, who wouldn't go out and look for work. We started out as a place for the really bad devastated woman, those who were homeless and destitute. Now, we get some young women who stay several days, and some stay several months," Maz said. "We always planned to be an emergency shelter for destitute women, to help people get back on their feet. These women were homeless, but not destitute. It's time they started doing something for themselves. There are other people in great great need."
Maz said that the House of Ruth is opening a new home at 700 6th St. NE as a "second stage" facility to help women get job opportunities.
The women living at the House of Ruth who left last week said they were told to take their clothes with them. They tied the clothes up in plastic trash bags, they said. In addition two resident managers there were told they no longer were needed.
After the women left the House of Ruth, they moved to the House of Imagene, a temporary shelter for battered women at 214 P St. NW.
But the Rev. Imagene Stewart, a minister for the Church of What's Happening Now, which sponsors the House of Imagene, told a reporter late Tuesday that she planned to "put them (the women) on the street" again this week because she had received no assistance from city officials or local churches in feeding and clothing the women. "I just can't keep them any longer," she said.
Brenda Curtis, one of the woman who left the House of Ruth and now must leave the House of Imagene, said, "We don't know what we're going to do. We're tired of being evicted. We have no idea of where we're going to go. Our hands are tied."
One of the women who used to reside at the House of Ruth, who gave her name only as Pam, is 20 years old and seven and a half months pregnant. She is from Indiana and has been in Washington for about a week, staying at the House of Ruth.
"I don't want to have to work out on the street," Pam said. "But it's like that's what they want us to do. It's hard to look for jobs when you have no money and no car."
Some of the women said they hope to start their own shelter for women who need a home for more than a few days.
"It won't be just a place to sleep and wash up," said Itanyia Dee, who had stayed at the House of Ruth more than a month and was kitchen manager there. Some of the women said they knew they could have returned to the House of Ruth at night, but as one put it. "We won't go back.We feel like we're not wanted."
Gwendolyn Joseph, president of the Women's Action League, criticized the House of Ruth for "kicking out" the women.
Joseph said some of the former occupants had come to her recently seeking help, complaining that they were not getting adequate counseling at the House of Ruth and that they wanted the house policy about the amount of time they could stay lengthened. Joseph said she advised them to meet with the director of the house and talk over their problems.
"They complained about the problems and then they got kicked out," Joseph said, "Where do they go from here? They're determined to do something for themselves, though they have nothing."
Stewart said anyone wanting to donate food, clothing or money to help take care of the women may call 797-7460