Shelter criticized for turning away pregnant women

Shelter criticized for turning away pregnant women
Thursday, December 15, 2011 - 2:02pm

After a woman who was seven months pregnant was turned away from a shelter about a week before Christmas, a fair housing advocate says he is livid.

Fair housing advocate James Perry is threatening to bring legal action against the New Orleans Mission for the way it handled a situation involving a pregnant woman.

“It is illegal to deny a person housing because they are pregnant,” Perry said emphatically to WDSU.

Perry said he plans to bring litigation against the mission for violating the federal Fair Housing Act.

“It's a very clear issue under the law,” Perry said. “It's illegal, No.1. And No. 2, I mean, just think about it. This woman is homeless and seven months pregnant. When it comes to this issue of what's moral, when is a person more in need than at that moment and they put her out in the street.”

However, New Orleans Mission Executive Director Ron Gonzalez said it’s not that cut and dry. Gonzalez said the mission went above and beyond to help the woman. She was allowed to stay at the shelter for four nights. He said the shelter also called other shelters for her and offered to buy a bus ticket for her to see her family in Mobile, Ala.

The mission’s policy states that expectant mothers further along than six months are not allowed.

Gonzalez said he was surprised to be accused of violating the law, so he contacted several attorneys.

“We were told that no, the federal courts have upheld that a homeless shelter is not a, quote, ‘dwelling’ -- whatever that means but refers to the code -- and they said they didn't believe we were in violation of anything, but to try to find out specifically what they feel it is we're violating,” Gonzalez said.

Perry said the shelter is considered a dwelling and his client should be able to stay there.

“Her goal, of course, if to find permanent housing -- to find another place to live. But at this moment, being in the mission with a roof over her head is better than being in the street. And that's the only other option that's out there -- the street,” Perry said.

Regardless, Gonzalez said the mission has policies it must follow.

“We don't turn people away. We're here to help. We do everything we can but we can't do more than we can do,” he said. “We will go the second mile, but, you know, we can't break the law. And we actually did that to help this lady and now it seems to be coming back on us.”

Shelters are available that serve pregnant women or women with families -- some of which have a waiting list.

The shelters specifically for women include the New Orleans Women’s Shelter, the Salvation Army Women and Children Shelter. The Metropolitan Center for Women and Children serves Jefferson Parish.

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