GALVESTON, TX (KTRK) — Two mothers trying to find a safe place to live with their teenage children said they faced dire conditions at the Children’s Center, Inc. in Galveston. Just weeks into their stay, the head of the county health department closed the facility, calling it one of the dirtiest places he had ever seen.
The center’s website says that for nearly 145 years, the nonprofit organization has provided “safety, shelter, and mentorship to those who are abandoned, abused, neglected, and exploited.”
Still, Alexia Francuz, who was staying at the shelter with her 15-year-old son, spoke to ABC13 on Monday about what she called “unacceptable living conditions.”
“It was awful. There’s a musty smell as soon as you enter either house. It doesn’t matter what you do. It comes back. It’s just bad there. The conditions don’t “Were not acceptable. The bathrooms alone were not acceptable. The toilets were clogged and the water was not flowing,” Francuz said.
Dr. Philip Keizer of the Galveston County Health District said they began investigating when a child staying at the center was on a routine medical appointment and tested positive for lead poisoning. encouraged to send environmental health specialists to check on conditions at the facility.
“It’s literally one of the dirtiest places I’ve ever been. There’s dirt on the floor. There’s dust everywhere. It’s important because that’s how children get lead poisoning kids crawling in it,” Keiser said.
“One of the houses we went to just smelled of sewage. We looked around the back and found the riser, where they have the water heater. There was just putrid water there- low, and the drain was clogged,” he said. .
Authorities have reported high levels of lead, rat droppings, rotting food, and infestations of cockroaches, bedbugs, and fleas. The fire marshal was also called due to multiple fire code violations. Therefore, the health department issued an order to stop operations at the children’s center.
RELATED: Galveston Co. Health Officials Force Closure of Children’s Center Following Harsh Living Conditions
Keizer said their priority now is getting lead poisoned children treated at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) and working with St. Vincent’s House to find homes for those who have had to leave.
“These are families who have been in crisis, and this has been a very traumatic event for them. I think as social service providers, or just humans, we would want to treat people the way we would want to be treated. stories we hear and the photos they share is not correct,” said Paula Tobon, executive director of Maison Saint-Vincent.
“It’s very heartbreaking to see that they had to be exposed to these conditions. They deserve this love and support,” said Mariana Monterrubio, bilingual case manager for St. Vincent’s House.
Some of the displaced residents, like Kelly Needham and her two sons, are now staying at a hotel in the area. But they don’t know how long they can stay. They hope for a certain responsibility on the part of the administration which manages the establishment.
“We were unpacking the first night, and I sat on the bed. There were cockroaches everywhere. The whole mattress smelled like urine. It was disgusting. I mean, who would expect someone bring their children, especially in a place like this?” Needham said.
Government grants and donations fund the Children’s Center. Keizer said part of the funding comes from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the building is leased by Galveston County on the condition that the center handle all maintenance.
“It’s a very long-standing deal. The feds gave it to the county on the basis that there was a shelter there. The county said, ‘Fine.’ They made offers, and the Children’s Center made an offer. They not only provided the property for free, but for a period of time they provided them with a stipend each year,” Keizer said.
Leslie Ornelas, executive director of United Way Galveston County Mainland, said she donates $70,000 to the center each year. She said after learning of the allegations. They removed the Children’s Center from their website as a customer resource. She also called for an emergency board meeting to consider her recommendation to suspend funding for the center indefinitely for the remainder of the year.
Tax returns from 2019 show the Children’s Center brought in more than $2.6 million for that year. The Galveston County Health District is currently working to submit a report to the Texas State Department of Health and Human Services, which they say is the agency overseeing the nonprofit. . They will also be looking at other center locations in Galveston County.
Dr. Keizer said it would ultimately be up to the state if a criminal investigation were opened.
“I don’t know the details of the finances of this place, but I can tell you that they weren’t spending it on these buildings. So what do they do with all that grant money? I think as a layman , that’s the kind of question I would ask, and that’s the question we’ll take to regulators,” Keizer said.
ABC13 requested filmed interviews with administrators and board members at the Children’s Center, but was not fired by the Monday night deadline.
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