KANSAS CITY, Mo. – When James Clifford moved into St. Michael’s Veterans Center Apartments in Kansas City almost a year ago, he said he was thrilled to join a community with strong social service programs.
Struggling with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), he said it was a great place to build connections with other veterans who have similar experiences.
What once felt like a safe place for veterans to process and heal soon became a community fueled by fear of eviction and retaliation, according to Clifford.
“St. Michael’s is a good community program for veterans, everybody here are veterans and stuff,” he said. “The issue that we have is the management that feels like they better than us, they talk down to us, they have double standard rules.”
In January, Clifford filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the management property and one of their managers, alleging disability discrimination. He said he is choosing to speak out now because since filing the suit, other tenants have continued to experience retaliation and fear.
“We (veterans) have mental health issues because it was basically a life-or-death situation (in the military), so when we come back to the United States to become civilians, we have to deal with people that has no idea what we went through and are very judgmental towards us,” he said. “At the end of the day, they (management) feel like they are entitled, have more power, because of our history of being homeless, or some of us have drug addictions, alcohol abuse, family issues, whatever the case may be, and the list goes on and on.”
Dennis Watts, the regional property manager, could not comment on the pending lawsuit. However, he said St. Michael’s Veterans Center Apartments takes tenant concerns very seriously.
“To the best of our ability, we want to make sure that we do the best that we can to provide safe, permanent housing to those who follow our rules that are applicable,” he said.
He said the apartment complex has been recognized both locally and nationally for its services to homeless veterans.
“St. Michael’s Veterans provides permanent housing to homeless and disabled veterans,” Watts said. “That is our mission.”
“We are here to provide as many services to them (veterans) to be acclimated back to life, and be self-supportive.”
According to the lawsuit, a property manager said she was above disabled people and asked Clifford if he wanted to move out.
FOX4 spoke with three other veterans at the complex who say they also feel bullied and verbally abused by management.
“I’d say more than half of the residents have been treated this way, if not more, but they’re fearful,” said Alex Foster, a tenant at St. Michael’s Veterans Center Apartments.
Tenant Marie Craig said she is constantly fearful of being evicted. Lawrence Grimes, another tenant, said he’s tired of sharing concerns with a “deaf ear.”
“The thing is, you have to treat veterans with respect,” Grimes said.
Foster said he believes the complex should hire management that is trained to handle veteran trauma and mental health. He said current management struggles to communicate with veterans in a way that is healthy and does not trigger PTSD symptoms.
“Some people who are struggling with their addictions or whatever aren’t necessarily going through the proper treatments or their therapies, so then they have issues and instead of her (the manager) understanding that, she gives them hard time, talks down to them, belittles them, to the point where she’s the bully,” he said.
He said it is important for veterans to stand up for themselves, despite difficult financial and housing circumstances, in order to secure a safe and fair environment for future tenants.
“The way you’re being talked to matters when you’re talking to a veteran because we do have issues, so in that respect, you need to have someone in management that is aware,” Foster said.