CNS—The problems at the Peace & Joy battered women’s shelter in Lynwood built up over several months, the Daily Breeze reported last week. Clients complained that the staff was abusive, the food was inadequate and the toilets didn’t flush. There were cockroaches and vermin droppings. One woman told the newspaper she had developed a foot fungus, and maggots were invading her room. She later moved back home because she felt safer with her abuser.
County administrators watched as the situation spiraled out of control. But they were wary of cracking down on the shelter because they believed that Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke was inclined to protect it, the newspaper reported. One of Burke’s deputies was friends with the shelter’s director, and both women were active in Carson politics. Still, the staffers believed that conditions were so bad that they had to take action.
So they drew up a plan to cut off funding and move the women and their children to other facilities.
But that didn’t happen, the Daily Breeze reported. Instead of suspending Peace & Joy’s contract, the Community and Senior Services agency merely put the shelter on probation. Peace & Joy no longer got referrals, but it still got funding. The decision, the newspaper reported, was mystifying within the county bureaucracy. In an e-mail two months after the suspension was supposed to take effect, a contract management director asked several colleagues if they had figured out whether the decision was reversed.
A colleague wrote back: “Although CSS’ plan was to suspend the agency, they ended up putting them on probation per Second District’s recommendation.”
That was a reference to Burke’s office. Despite urgent warnings about maggots and cockroaches, county staffers were saying that Burke had intervened to keep the shelter open. In interviews and e-mails, Burke and other county officials denied that she had any role in dealing with the problems at Peace & Joy.
“I don’t dictate policy. I don’t dictate action,” Burke said.
“I can’t make suggestions—I can never be involved in action that’s taken by a department.”
But in thousands of pages of e-mails and other documents obtained through the state Public Records Act, it became clear that Burke and her staff have been more engaged than she lets on, and that county staffers felt inhibited from doing their jobs because of it.