On July 26, a client at Angeline's, a YWCA program that serves as a service center for homeless women, was folding her clothes in the laundry room, when she heard someone holler, "She's stabbing, she's stabbing." Positioning herself close to a nearby open window inside the facility, the client saw three women grappling on the floor: a staff member and two other clients, one trying to stop the other who was wielding a five-inch-long knife.
"It was going up and down, up and down, at least five or six times," says the client, who requested anonymity out of concern for her own safety. "And it was big."
Within seconds, the woman brandishing the knife was subdued by the second client on the floor, but not before the staff member had been reportedly stabbed six times in the back.
"To me," says the client, "it was like a sinister movie."
The staff member, a part-time employee, was treated at a local hospital for non life-threatening injuries and released within two-and-a-half hours. Her identity is being withheld. So, too, is that of the alleged perpetrator, whom Angeline's staff have said has a mental illness. She remains in custody.
The client says that the image of a clenched knife rising and falling plays over and over in her mind. The incident has unsettled her and led to a confession: sometimes, at Angeline's, she doesn't feel safe.
Yet providing safety for women who are homeless, or perhaps fleeing abusive domestic partners, is Angeline's goal. Currently located on Second Ave., near the corner of Lenora St., the service center celebrated its 20th anniversary this past winter. This year, 1,750 clients have been offered shelter, meals, laundry and shower facilities, references to other shelters, or even a place to sit and just be.
Liz Mills, director of YWCA/Opportunity Place (which is located two doors south of Angeline's), says keeping Angeline's a safe haven is paramount. "I have no doubt that this incident did shake up clients," says Mills. "We try to position staff within the facility and maintain the safest environment we can,"
Still, she admits that, given that as many as 200 women come through the doors daily, each possessing varying levels of coping skills, there are some days when conflicts do arise. "There are definitely times where you hear yelling, you hear people accuse others of doing things," she says. "We have a huge variety of women, as well as situations, that can occur."
Mona Joyner, a former client at Angeline's, finds that since the stabbing her concerns about safety have increased. Even though Joyner was a client there until three months ago, she still returns on a daily basis, she says, as a way to beat back the loneliness that can settle around her nearby apartment in Opportunity Place. As part of her regular routine, Joyner says she stopped by Angeline's shortly after the stabbing occurred, only to see the injured staff member being taken out of the building.
Inside, after the staff was debriefed, Joyner says that 40 or so clients were then called together by staff, to discuss the incident. "There we sat, with all these thoughts," recalls Joyner. "If we've been abused, it brings back traumatic experiences."
During the meeting, Joyner says one client asked why there wasn't a metal detector at the front door. She says the client was told that the device is on Angeline's "wish list."
Mills concedes that there is no metal detector on site.
Joyner says that in the days that have followed, the clients have been nervous. The area where the stabbing took place -- referred to as the personal care center, with its three showers, two changing rooms and laundry area -- is only monitored by one staff member at a time. Joyner says she thinks the area should be staffed by at least one more person. "What I'm seeking is changes within that place," she says.
Changes are being evaluated, says Mills, for the safety of clients and staff. She says that currently everyone has to be buzzed in. An outside intercom requires all who enter to talk to someone at the front desk first. Along with these measures, she says there are internal and external cameras on-site, as well as security officers. No camera is installed near the showers, she says.
Mills says that the facility is always looking to deescalate situations before they occur. Part of that comes, she suggests, from the people who step into Angeline's. "We really do rely on the clients to maintain a safe environment," she says.
Recalling the alleged stabber, Joyner says that she often saw her sitting in front of the fireplace, knitting. She says she'd never seen her become violent, or even sensed it. But now, in the wake of the stabbing and the increased tension that's followed, she says she remains upset. And wonders about safety at Angeline's. "This [incident] is just more anger that is sitting there," says Joyner, "that's going to trigger someone the next time."