, Salem, MA

Local News

April 23, 2012

Agency will probe HAWC

Lawyers for six residents send letter alleging 'climate of abuse' at Salem shelter

SALEM — Lawyers for six residents at an emergency shelter for victims of domestic violence have asked a state agency to investigate a "climate of abuse," including complaints of humiliating treatment, improper evictions and retaliation after some residents went to court.

The shelter, at an undisclosed location in Salem, is operated by HAWC (which stands for Healing Abuse Working for Change), a 34-year-old Salem-based program that provides services to battered women and other victims of domestic abuse, including a shelter for those fleeing abusive relationships who have no safe place to go.

But in a letter to the state Department of Children and Families, the women's attorneys, from Neighborhood Legal Services, say they have "grave concerns" over the situation at the shelter, which receives state funds, and are asking for an investigation and corrective measures.

A DCF spokeswoman, Cayenne Isaksen, said in an email that her agency "will be conducting a thorough investigation into these allegations."

HAWC's director, Candace Waldron, acknowledged there has been tension within the shelter, as well as a lack of understanding of the legal process to remove certain residents, but blamed some residents who, she suggested, simply don't want to leave.

In their letter, the residents' lawyers, Marc Potvin and Laura Gallant, cited a range of allegations, from evictions of women with children with as little as two hours' notice to an incident in which residents were told to stand in a circle around a pile of donated clothing and wait for a countdown before they could then rummage through the bags and "fight" over the clothing, as staff members watched and laughed.

Some residents report having to "beg" for basic items, including one woman who asked repeatedly for cots for her children.

The Salem News is not reporting the names of the women in keeping with a policy of not identifying victims of domestic abuse.

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