Organizations funded by the city of Madison are required to follow a set of protocols that describe how to go about conducting employee and volunteer background checks.

In light of a sexual assault allegation at Sanctuary Storage, a storage facility for homeless individuals, this background checking process has come into question.

City of Madison ordinance Section 39.03 describes the steps employers must follow when conducting background checks. It details the standards employers can and cannot hire people with a criminal history.

On July 13, 2017, Kristine Pierstorff and another woman, who wished to remain anonymous, were using Sanctuary Storage’s facilities and claimed a volunteer from the organization sexually assaulted them, according to an article by Channel 3000.

Neither woman filed a report with the Madison Police Department, and, consequently, no one was charged with assault. The volunteer who allegedly assaulted these women is a registered sex offender with multiple past convictions, according to the Channel 3000 article. He was immediately removed from the position. 

“I think there are people with certain backgrounds who should really not be allowed around vulnerable populations like this,” Pierstorff said. “You’ve got people with disabilities here, mental and physical disabilities that may make them less likely to be able to handle a situation like that.”

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The city’s contract with Sanctuary Storage states the organization takes responsibility to “use reasonable application and screening tools to select employees and volunteers who work directly with vulnerable clients.”

Jim O’Keefe, Director of Madison’s Community Development division, said the requirements regarding background checks set in motion by the city are important for each organization in Madison to follow.

Offenses or violations in someone’s past must in some way be relevant to the work the employee or volunteer does in order for them to be denied a position, O’Keefe said. This is particularly important if the position in question has anything to do with children.

The event at Sanctuary Storage served as a reminder that this contract requirement is important, O’Keefe said.

“Homeless persons aren’t a population that normally comes to mind when you think of vulnerable populations, under that ordinance,” O’Keefe said. “It brought to our attention that persons who are affected by trauma, in many cases, include homeless persons.”

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MPD spokesperson Joel DeSpain said there are sexual assaults where people with no permanent address are victimized.

MPD works closely with this vulnerable population to connect them to resources or connect with their Special Victims Unit that deals with sexual assault of vulnerable people, DeSpain said.

“MPD would encourage women who may have been victimized to contact us so we can help them,” DeSpain said.

The Beacon, a day resource center for people experiencing homelessness in Dane County, is one of the many organizations within Madison that is required to follow the background check ordinance, Center Director Judith Metzger said.

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The Beacon is a branch of Catholic Charities, a nonprofit organization that helps vulnerable populations within the Madison area. The Beacon follows their hiring protocols, which they gather from the Council on Accreditation guidelines, Metzger said.

Once a position is posted online, Metzger said people will respond with credentials and experience. The Beacon administration then rates these applicants based on the criteria the job demands.

Phone interviews are conducted with promising candidates, and then they do in-person interviews to finalize the position, Metzger said.

When a person is hired, The Beacon immediately makes the new employee fill out a Background Information Disclosure form, Metzger said. From there, the organization checks the Crime Information Bureau, a site the organization pays for to view with each new hire.

“Each step of our employment process involves filtering out people who are not correct for the job,” Metzger said.

Metzger said employees must have a clear caregiver profile to work at The Beacon.

The process of hiring volunteers is not as thorough, Metzger said. The Beacon will not allow recent felons, sexual predators or people with an unclean caregiving record to volunteer.

“Criminal background checks are also conducted on volunteers, but we want to give them a chance to prove themselves,” Metzger said.