Bushwick woman scores guaranteed interpreters for deaf homeless people

The Brooklyn Paper
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A deaf Bushwick woman who struggled to navigate the city’s homeless shelter system with no interpreter recently won a settlement that will ensure other heard-of-hearing refuge residents won’t face the same barriers she did in finding permanent housing.

The city’s Department of Homeless Services last Tuesday agreed to pay Grace Ihetu and her family $117,500 for their suffering and ensure all deaf people living in shelters get access to sign-language interpreters from now on, and Ihetu said she is thrilled at the outcome.

“I am happy and proud I made a positive change,” said Ihetu, who swung the settlement thanks to lawyers at the New York Center for Law and Justice, a legal team that represents the deaf and hard of hearing.

Ihetu, who was born deaf, said she became homeless in September 2010 and entered a Bronx shelter alone, hoping workers there could help her find below-market-rate housing where she could live with her twin daughters and son. Her kids went to live with a relative, she said.

But she soon realized she had no way to communicate her goal to shelter workers — she is not fluent in English and the city did not provide an American Sign Language interpreter. When she tried to request one, the workers shrugged her off, she claims.

“I would go to every single person in the staff,” said Ihetu. “They looked open to helping, then would realize I was deaf and they would close down again.”

Ihetu says the city shuttled her from shelter to shelter without explanation, and she grew increasingly frustrated trying to find help.

She finally stopped by a social service agency in February 2011 and explained her troubles. The agents there referred her to the Center for Law and Justice, where lawyers reached out to the city on her behalf. The city heard her pleas, and Ihetu moved into a Bushwick building with her kids that September.

There are laws in place that are supposed to ensure resources for deaf individuals in the homeless system, said one of the lawyers who worked on Ihetu’s case, but city agencies were not following through and did not realize many deaf residents were suffering in silence.

“We made the city aware of the challenges of being deaf in the homeless shelter system,” said attorney Bruce Gitlin. “To the city’s credit, they began an investigation and tried to make things right for Grace.”

But even after settling into her home, Ihetu felt she needed to do more to ensure others didn’t face the same obstacles she did, and her legal team agreed.

“We felt that there was a need for a policy change,” said Gitlin.

The team, working with the United States Attorney’s Office, filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeless Services and eventually scored a victory for deaf and hard-of-hearing shelter residents — the city must now supply an interpreter upon request, inform deaf residents that they can make such a request, and train shelter employees on how to work with deaf residents.

The department declined to comment on Ihetu’s account of her experiences, but claimed it had already been working to improve services for deaf residents, which the settlement will now solidify.

“DHS has implemented a number of additional measures over the years for deaf and hard of hearing shelter residents and this agreement formalizes that commitment,” said spokeswoman Nicole Cueto

Ihetu says it was a painful journey, but it ultimately had a happy ending.

“I feel blessed,” she said. “It was so horrendous what I was going through before, but now things are great.”

Reach reporter Allegra Hobbs at or by calling (718) 260–8312.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Samir Kabir from downtown says:
Alhamdullah! That means "Praise the Lord".
Oct. 31, 2015, 5:53 am
Sylvia from Inwood says:
"other heard-of-hearing refuge residents" HEARD-of-hearing? Yes, I have heard of hearing. Now, can we say "Deaf and hard-of-hearing? Can we please have someone proofread so it's easier to understand these articles the first time? This is a great story but when it starts out confusing, you wonder how much sense the rest of it makes. Thanks.
Nov. 4, 2015, 2:56 am
davenport from greensboro says:
was in special-ed/use to be very shy{dad said inherited from grandma"not shy like i use to be!was taken advantage of by con-artis dorthy faye bullock from wendell nc who work spiritistic"on me to kidn my baby "her baby came out in the co-mode wasnt able to have anymore after that,kidn me from jehovahs witness has been secretly abusing me slandering,drug rape,recently using relativesoc-sec robme$20,000or more/slowly,dying,dorthystalkingas i speak shesPROstitute has connections pleasehelpi request another worker as ididnt feel comfortable with ms singletary4mos later still workin on my case (know/what/she/looklike)singletary Co-worker said"no-one has the right to deduct any money from my account!the 2 are slandering me inthe streets as the 10 yrOLd,robbed gas station old wake forest rd almost across fromBojanglesfavors ms singletary.deborah lee jersygansternewjersyalone-w-10yrold dorthy kidn my baby. soc sec never tell me how to spend my money/ms.singletary promise to pay me in may1/2014 topay cash forUhaultruck to convert intoRVorhomeonWheels.capitalboulivard theManager office,besideIHOPraleigh,nc dorthy also idenity theft me.mentally tortured my son.know how sick it sounds some women are jealous of a child. been ingreensboro few weeks she poison me twice,shes prostitute has acop need handicap wheelchair(rover-round have the money bein robbed by dorthys relative workin soc sec thank you
Nov. 6, 2015, 2:52 pm
davenport from greensboro says:
raped drugged me put me in mental hosp kidn my baby. dorthy recently use a relative working for 4701old wake forest rd raleigh nc social security administration to rob me of over$20,000dallorsms.singletary promise to pay mein1/1/2014 after aweek not rec my check i report the phoney debit card she set me up with stolen&to the card comp located newbern ave raleigh were KENTUCKY fried chicken use to be!asked for electronic thr bank she said no'because im homeless,other people told me thats not true. she said i had to check into shelter harget st were they discriminate,march&april to get set up &then may my backpay. very rude,nasty disposition.never had problem before soc sec,social service yes they owe me over 2years infoodstamps they like to meddle, dont go there,treat me really bad, my friend said im silly'thats my money,shouldnt let them intimidate told me im suppose to be gettin 2checks only getting 1.was camping out to save enough for deposit for apartment.until get uhaul truck need rover-round handicap elec chair,knees are bad.these tools may eventually help me get work. or may loose my leg &hand,because of them stealin&holin my money.3:17PM11/6/2015 library.h.b.rowland Sr rt 4 Zebulon nc Jehovahs witness "said" the reason why dorthy doing all these things to me because shes jealouse.....didnt want abortion nor foster care those were the options doris s wilkins soc worker orphanage grew up. ..
Nov. 6, 2015, 3:22 pm
davenport from greensboro says:
spent time in the cold because singletary working on my case.stealing,told her several times want another empoyee.her co-worker aske did i know someone had deducted $250.00dallors from my account?told her didnt know anything about it,small amount,she said it doesnt matter no-one has the right to deduct any money from my account.donot have payee.paymy own bills.right leg was spilt,vehicle accident,bothered me terribally 1st day went to dallor store get medicine. iwill like to apply united health care for medicade.
Nov. 6, 2015, 3:37 pm

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