Play To Stay

Homeless advocacy group alleges sexual harassment at a service provider.

| April 25, 2013
H.O.P.E. members protesting the
Beers Van Gogh Center on Thursday.
H.O.P.E. members protesting the Beers Van Gogh Center on Thursday.
- Bianca Philips

In the fall of 2011, Lolita Baker was staying in a local homeless shelter at night and spending her days at the Beers Van Gogh Center of Excellence on Madison, where she received mental-health services. But Baker chose to quit attending support groups at the center after employee Hervelle Williams allegedly sent her a cell phone picture of his penis.

"I stopped going there because I couldn't handle his attention," Baker said. "That was my place to go every day until time to go back to the shelter. But once he did that, I was just outside every day in the cold. I didn't have anywhere else to go."

The Beers Van Gogh Center offers housing, support, and Medicaid services to people with severe mental illnesses.

Baker filed a formal complaint, and Williams was investigated. But the Tennessee Mental Health Consumer's Association (TMHCA), the Nashville agency that runs the Memphis center, chose not to terminate him.

Since then, more and more women and men have come forward with complaints of alleged sexual harassment and assault stemming from Williams.

Last Thursday, H.O.P.E. (Homeless Organizing for Power and Equality), an advocacy group made up of homeless and formerly homeless members and run under the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center's umbrella, launched a weekly protest campaign against the Beers Van Gogh Center.

H.O.P.E. will protest the center every Thursday at noon, chanting phrases like "Do not grope. We are H.O.P.E." and holding signs that read "Play To Stay Is Not Okay" or "We Condemn Sexual Harassment," until TMHCA addresses their concerns.

One former Beers Van Gogh employee, who asked to remain anonymous, said Williams sexually harassed her on multiple occasions.

"One day, I couldn't get a cabinet open, so I asked him to open it. He grabbed me and kissed me. Another time, I was going into the kitchen, and he walked up behind me and put a hand on my right buttock and a hand on my left breast," she said.

Another former employee, Tracy Curry, who is male, didn't personally experience harassment from Williams. But he obtained video of an alleged assault on a homeless client by a man he identified as Williams. Curry shared this video with the Flyer. It shows two male employees shoving another man out of the front door and both men following him outside and beating him with their fists.

"It was just like Rodney King with no sticks," said Curry, who has been advocating on the homeless client's behalf.

Another former client, Ronald Kent, alleges Williams called him "a punk-ass bitch" and shoved him after Kent returned from lunch to retrieve his bags that were left at the center.

"TMHCA has in place processes and procedures for accountability and oversight of its staff and its residents and policies for reporting and investigating complaints," said Anthony Fox, executive director of TMHCA. "I will not fire someone based on allegations of claims that have not been reported to TMHCA and properly investigated. If [the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center] presents credible evidence of wrongdoing, then I will investigate it pursuant to TMHCA policy."

Members of the Peace & Justice Center and H.O.P.E. have a meeting scheduled with Fox this week.

Fox said he isn't pleased about the planned weekly protests: "I am concerned about the effects that protest will have on the people we serve. A protest in front of anyone's home is disturbing, but for the individuals we serve, it is especially stressful. I am hopeful that [the Peace & Justice Center] will see the benefit in communicating its concerns with us through meaningful dialogue and that it will refrain from disrupting the environment of the residents and constituents at the center."

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Comments (15)

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Posted by H.O.P.E. on 04/25/2013 at 10:37 AM

If I am not mistaken this has been brought to the attention of TMHCA last year when it first happened.

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Posted by Jack Armstrong on 04/25/2013 at 8:40 PM

I am a member at the center and I know that these are all lies about Mr. Williams. He tries to help everyone and he is strict about the rules. Lolita made up that story because a staff person told her to do it when she was mad at Mr. Williams. The staff person is not working now but she asked me and some others to say things about Mr. Williams and I told her I would not do that. I seen women talk under his clothes all the time and they get mad coz he tell them to stop. Lolita will have sex with anybody and anybody at the park can tell that is true. If they really check the people they listen to they will see that they are wrong.

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Posted by Member on 04/28/2013 at 5:49 PM

The HOPE organization should be embarrassed when they find out that their sources are the ones who they should be protesting against. Tracy Curry was fired from Southeast Mental Health center for breaking a patient's arm! Before that he was fired from Lakeside Hospital for excessive use of force when he badly injured a patient. His so called Rodney King video is the last part of a situation where the person attempted to stab another member with a knife and Mr. Williams protected the other members and staff by taking the knife from the so called victim. HOPE org has simply gotten involved with a situation without checking the facts before waging a slander campaign against Mr. Williams. Tracy Curry is an ex employee and they should ask him why he is no longer employed there or at any of his last 3 jobs.

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Posted by JOKEONHOPE on 04/28/2013 at 6:01 PM

This whole article is a joke. Anybody in the mental health community knows that Ronald Kent cannot go into any help centers because he has no respect for himself or anyone else. His two sentences should have been left out of the story. He was called a name! That's not worth putting in the paper. To add the lie that he was shoved is even a bigger joke because he is a lot bigger than Mr. Williams. It's sad that hope org has allowed angry ex employees and members who were put out for breaking rules to send them against Mr. Williams. Have they ever thought about the fact that he might still be working there because he is innocent? HOPE...don't be a joke...check the facts!!

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Posted by Reader on 04/28/2013 at 6:14 PM

This is sad! My mom attends the center and loves it. I've met Mr. Williams and he's very professional. Mr. Williams is very good with the people that attends the facility. My mom has a mental illness and I've witnessed her saying inappropriate things BUT Mr. Williams, being the professional and respectable man that he is corrected the problem. To be honest she wakes up ready to go to the center to tell Mr. Williams about her day. Beware, while y'all are accusing and slandering this man name, remember while you're pointing your finger, you have ten pointing right back. So take a good look in the mirror and evaluate yourself. YOU MAY NOT LIKE WHAT YOU SEE!!!!!

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Posted by ForPeace on 04/28/2013 at 11:40 PM

I am very familiar with the Center, Mr. Williams, other employees of the Center and I have spoken to many of the clients as part of their outreach program. Everyone I have met there, including Mr. Williams, has been very professional. I can come to only one conclusion after reading this article - neither HOPE nor this publication checked its facts prior to initiating this campaign against TMHCA and Mr. Williams. Ms. Phillips, why don't you confer with the Attorney General's office regarding the homeless man whose image is contained on the video - you may find that his actions were unlawful and endangered other homeless people on that day. Further, you also may find that the image you saw was just one part of the event. I know that fact gathering isn't easy. However, unless and until you have the entire story the better course is to not publish because a reputation is a precious commodity and before putting pen to paper about something someone said you should be clear as a bell that it is the truth.

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Posted by Barbaralette Davis on 04/29/2013 at 5:35 PM

Wow. BLAME THE VICTIM.... Thats a tired and disgusting, but still often used tactic. it just looks like the same person got on here and wrote comments as different users, especially since three of them are posted minutes apart.... I wouldnt be surprised if it was the guy mentioned in the article. wether or not the clients behavior is questionable,or other staff,you are held to a higher standard when you work in a position of authority with vulnerable people, or at least you should be. If there was a pattern of complaints about someone I worked with as serious as these, and the individual was still working there, I would quit, and I sure wouldn't want to go there for services. It is sad that some people want to question the validity of those willing to come forward publicly about something so personal instead of demanding a full investigation into these allegations at the very least!

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Posted by LOWBROWcomments on 04/29/2013 at 10:24 PM

I have enjoyed reading the Memphis Flyer for many, many years because the Flyer has never "slanted" the news. This is why I am so surprised that you would even publish this article prior to getting both sides of the story. I have met Mr. Williams at the Center and I witnessed his interaction with the clients and his fellow employees and there was nothing but mutual respect shown towards him and he showed the same respect to those around him. I participated in one of his group discussions and he had the group's attention from start to finish. I saw that they valued his opinion on a number of subjects. But your article made it seem as if Mr. Williams' time on the job was mostly spent sexually harassing the women and physically abusing the men. Your article also made it seem as if TMHCA does not have any standards whatsoever in its hiring policies, if you think that they would hire someone with the characteristics that you have labeled Mr. Williams. Please, please get BOTH sides of the story before you pass judgement. You know how many black men have been wrongly accused just because of who they are.

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Posted by Marcia Guy on 04/29/2013 at 11:03 PM

Lowbrow you must be unemployed. Sure you would quit your job, yeah right! You spent your entire post going over other comments then you accuse "the guy mentioned in the article" of posting 3 comments simply because they were posted hmmmm 11 and 13 minutes apart! Maybe 3 people were reading this article at the same time and simply decided how wrong it is! Maybe you are one of the people playing a part in the slander campaign against Mr. Williams. Do you really think TMHCA did not do an investigation? If you think that type of organization would let such behavior slide, then you must be from another planet! Your "Blame the victim" statement is so tired and overused....so I guess you have never heard of any cases where people have ruined the lives of others with one lie that goes so far that it can't be taken back? People lie all the time Lowbrow in case you didn't know. I am going to say it again, what if Mr. Williams is innocent? Then, how do you fix his name and reputation that you messed up? People are always looking for a sad story and it is so much easier to believe that Mr. Williams is guilty than to think the others lied. Since you are on your moral high horse, you know the right thing to do is to make sure you have the facts before you convict. Surely you know that people lie....

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Posted by Reader on 04/30/2013 at 7:58 AM

I been going to da center a while.Mr.Williams is a respectful,cool guy.I like going to center.

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Posted by hope on 04/30/2013 at 8:07 AM

This sounds like a reality show people will do anything for 15 seconds of fame. Why would Mr Williams try to sexually harrass a homeless person?? If anything he will try and help them. This amuses me how people will down the next person because they wanted Mr Williams to say something inappropriate to them just so they can throw dirt on his name He works at a mental facility so has it occurred that its just all in their minds?????
Be realistic people!!!!!!!

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Posted by ladycapricorn1223 on 04/30/2013 at 5:14 PM

Multiple people have come forward regarding these abuses. Multiple account....
Shame on you Mr. Williams. Shame on you.

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Posted by MemphisVoices on 07/26/2013 at 9:43 PM

Both of them are innocent, this confusion was started by Hollywood people who can see us via the microchip and is able to mind control the man and woman to make it seem that he is guilty. All I can say it seems they both are innocent. The play to stay was created via mind control because of the Hollywood and their team abuse of myself, kicking out of my home, having me falsely imprisoned and many others in the South they have abused. The men in Hollywood were paid as young people if they wanted to be famous to come into our neighborhoods and abuse us by Elizabeth of London, the Bush family, Hollywood, Free Masons and the politicians. When I realized what was happening and how Hollywood was involved in this wrongdoing. It was another way to continue to cause our black men to imprisoned. Hollywood and the Free Masons are still involved in destroying our communities. The weapon of mass destruction is the microchip, CCTVs, mind control, wars, sex wars against defenseless people.

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Posted by L Enshes on 01/17/2014 at 5:03 AM

Once I realized it was the Hollywood people I immediately stopped going to the rallies, meetings and how they are doing it all wrong.

I was typing fast and left out words. but the Free Masons, Hollywood, the Washington politicians, they have no accountability in their behavior of attacking us. They have been attacking us for a long time without our knowledge. The reason the rape kits weren't prepared is they do not care about us. These people have been raping, beating, destroying our communities, dumbing us down, taking our fathers away, throwing our men in jails for profit even though their controllers, handlers are doing the crime.

The crimes in Memphis is beyond racists, the government system, the Hollywood system has no accountability for their wars against people and they are doing it for fame, ideas, stealing all from us even though we are poor as one man wrote sucking the life out of our souls.
None of them have faced a real jail, trial, for genocide, murder, rape because as he said THEY DON'T REALLY CARE ABOUT US. They will murder a few Caucasians along the way, but their main target is black folks that are poor and worships them as well. As I watched around the internet how they constantly deny our existent and want to deny their wars on black women and Free Masons wars against black women, they look at us as bed wenches still, for those not in their groups.

Once again I stopped going once I realized they were making fun of me, having sex to live somewhere after the Hollywood team had me removed from my home. What person would think someone has teams to fight against unsuspecting people? They stole our children, sexually assaulted all they could, the murders in Memphis are mind control murders by Hollywood groups, the rapes are perpetrated by Hollywood and the politicians mind control rapes, and we are still in slavery in Memphis and the South.

The weapon of mass destruction is they can use other people's bodies and that person not know it, the responsibility of these crimes fall under the military who is very quiet about wars against people that can not defend themselves and those that have illegally microchip us violating the 4th Amendment. None of the politicians abide by the Constitution, they are the anarchists.

People would be surprised if I name names of who is involved in this type of stuff and it seems they haven't stopped. Most of us are under mind control and do not know it.

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Posted by L Enshes on 01/17/2014 at 5:31 AM
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