Advocates for the homeless in the Fitchburg area say there is a problem at Our Father’s House, the region's only year-round overnight shelter: The director may be preying on the people who go there for help.

At a recent meeting of the Fitchburg Human Rights Commission, several advocates accused Kevin MacLean — the shelter’s director of homelessness — of physically and sexually assaulting clients.

Tara Rivera, business development officer at Recovery Centers of America, told the commission homeless people in the region are being “violated and threatened and berated and mistreated.”

“If I came to you as a Fitchburg resident, someone that's gainfully employed and a homeowner in the city and told you half of what I've heard from our homeless population has happened at the hands of Kevin, he would be in handcuffs,” said Rivera.

The Fitchburg Police Department is now investigating the allegations and asking anyone with information to contact the department.

But advocates said they’ve appealed to local police, as well as Our Father’s House leadership, and state and federal authorities for at least two years. Those concerns were largely dismissed as hearsay, advocates said, because none of the homeless victims wanted to come forward on their own. Instead the complaints were relayed through case workers or caregivers.

MacLean declined interview requests from GBH News. He referred all questions to Our Father’s House Executive Director Judith Nest-Pasierb, who defended MacLean.

“Certainly, he wants to help people and help homeless people as well,” she said.

In an interview with GBH News this month, Nest-Pasierb said she had no prior knowledge of the allegations made by advocates. But weeks earlier, in aJan. 18 email to the Human Rights Commission obtained by GBH News, she confirmed those allegations had been investigated, and dismissed.

“In this particular case, all accusations were both independently and officially investigated without merit,” Nest-Pasierb wrote.

Asked in the follow-up interview whether MacLean should be placed on leave during the police investigation, Nest-Pasierb said “in our country we're innocent until proven guilty, period.”

Approximately two years ago, advocates said, they met with Nest-Pasierb who dismissed their concerns.

Susan Buchholz, the coordinator of the Joint Coalition on Health, a grassroots public health and social justice organization, told the commission she has heard the complaints against MacLean from clients, some of which stem back five or six years.

“Tara and I and others and psychological professionals have been working on this for so long and have heard women tell explicitly how they were assaulted,” Buchholz said.

Yvonne Andrews, a mental health provider in Fitchburg, told the commission clients have said that MacLean wields his authority to get “sexual favors” from homeless individuals.

They “feel like they can't do anything to stand up to Kevin because he's the only gig in town,” she said. “And he also holds the powerful control factor that makes people feel like no matter where they go, that they will be banned from whatever help they can possibly get.”

Our Father’s House launched an internal investigation about two years ago, according to advocates.

But Jacqueline Buckley, Community Health Connections chief operating officer, told the commission the investigation was “thoroughly pointless.”

“It was not conducted in an objective fashion. And I heard that from people who were interviewed and people that volunteered to be interviewed that were not contacted,” Buckley said.

Asked if that investigation took place, Nest-Pasierb said she couldn’t answer.

“I would highlight an employee's confidentiality. I would never do that to anyone, any employee,” she said.

Advocates shared email threads confirming their outreach to state and federal agencies and elected leaders. Spokespeople for both the United States Attorney for the district of Massachusetts and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development declined to comment when asked if the agencies had investigated.

Investigation underway

Fitchburg Police Chief Ernest Martineau said Sgt. Christopher Bellofatto is leading the department's investigation into the allegations raised in January and encouraged members of the public to reach out.

“If they were a victim of something by Mr. MacLean, they should come bring it to our attention,” Martineau told GBH News. “And I assure you, it will be investigated to the fullest that that we can investigate it.”

Martineau went on to say that Our Father’s House has been a “great partner.”

“It's not fair to, just with a brush stroke, call Our Father's House something that they aren't," Martineau said. "They've been an institution in this city for 40 plus years. I consider them the subject matter experts to homelessness issues.”

Two people said they were turned away by Fitchburg police in July 2018 when they asked to file assault charges against MacLean.
“My son and I did that three years ago and got nowhere,” said Kathleen Couture. “Nowhere.”

Martineau told GBH News the department has no record of Couture, or her son Christopher Cattel Jr., asking to press charges.

Documents provided by Nest-Pasierb to GBH News confirm that there was a physical altercation between MacLean and Cattel.

The two men have different accounts of the skirmish.

Cattel said MacLean assaulted him, inside the shelter, after he questioned staff about his prescription medication. Cattel maintains medication was stolen from him.

“Kevin ran and hit me right in the side of my hip and knocked me on the stairs,” said Cattel, 42, who has had multiple hip replacement surgeries and occasionally walks with a cane.

He added that MacLean ordered a staff member to sit on him until Fitchburg police arrived.

“I believe Kevin's intent was to hurt me because I was not bowing down to him,” said Cattel. “I was not letting him try and intimidate me and that's what he thought he was going to be able to do.”

Cattel said he wasn’t intimidated or seriously injured, although he did have bruising and low back pain following the alleged incident.

In a July 10, 2018 report emailed to Nest-Pasierb, MacLean said Cattel assaulted him after he was told to leave the shelter for “misuse of medication.”

MacLean said Cattel shoved and tried to punch him, but MacLean used “restraint-training” to defend himself.

“I basically put him into a power half-nelson and wrapped my other hand around his head and forced him down to the floor and eventually into the bottom of the second-floor staircase going up,” MacLean wrote.

He asked employee Brian Pelletier to assist with the restraint by holding Cattel’s legs. Maclean asked another staff member to call police and report that he’d been assaulted.

While Cattel was pinned, MacLean said Cattel was “very combative” and tried to bite him.

“I told him if he bit my arm, he may never be able to eat again,” MacLean wrote.

MacLean wrote that police asked if he wanted to press assault charges against Cattel. He declined, and instead asked the police to issue a no trespass order, which can prohibit an individual from entering a property.

Three other staff members signed a statement that said MacLean restrained Cattel because Cattel had been “physically violant [sic] toward staff.”

In an interview with GBH News, Nest-Pasierb said she didn't recall Cattel or the incident.

“As executive director I oversee the agency. So, I'm not working face to face with clients,” Nest-Pasierb said. “But I can tell you that as a grievance policy, as grievances come to my attention, I never had a grievance from [Cattel] before and was not aware of this before."

Nest-Pasierb confirmed Our Father’s House uses video surveillance, which she said is limited to common areas of the shelter and “archived for a certain length of time.”

A request to review footage from July 10, 2018 went unanswered by Nest-Pasierb.

‘I knew my life was about to change’

MacLean was inspired to work with the homeless years ago while on assignment for a New Hampshire newspaper, according to a 2017 newsletter piece he wrote.

“After spending four days, and writing an award-winning article, I knew my life was about to change and would include helping the homeless,” he wrote. “Nine months later I resigned from the paper and spent the next year volunteering at the St. Francis Inn Soup Kitchen, in the Badlands of Philly, as a member of the Franciscan Volunteer Ministry.”

MacLean joined Our Father’s House in March 2010. There, he’s responsible for street outreach and running the emergency shelter, according to his LinkedIn page.

Numerous local newspaper accounts have highlighted MacLean’s work.

One article said he keeps a fund at an area coffee shop so that homeless people in need can use it to buy a warm beverage. Other stories detail MacLean’s work distributing supplies, like blankets, food and toiletries, encouraging use of the emergency shelter, and offering homeless individuals rental assistance.

When working on the streets, Nest-Pasierb said MacLean takes precautions “for his protection and accountability.” For the past two years, MacLean has been accompanied by a police liaison when conducting street outreach in Fitchburg. And he also wears a body camera and has a dashboard camera inside his vehicle, she said.

Nest-Pasierb did not respond to a subsequent question about when and why MacLean began taking video surveillance of his work. In addition to his work for Our Father’s House, MacLean is a case manager and life coach for a New Hampshire-based homeless shelter, and a "criminal investigator” with RCB & Associates, based in Lowell, according to his LinkedIn page.

A private meeting

Allegations against MacLean were made public at the January Human Rights Commission meeting; the commission followed up during its February meeting.

Neither MacLean nor Nest-Pasierb attended the commission’s meetings. But Nest-Pasierb and Our Father’s House Board President, and former State Sen. Robert Antonioni met privately at least once with commissioners, according to the commission’s Feb. 8 notes obtained by GBH News.

The notes indicate the meeting centered on the allegations against MacLean.

At the public meeting on Feb. 9, the commission voted unanimously to await the results of the police investigation before taking any action.

“He’s innocent until proven guilty, not guilty until proven innocent,” said commission member Cheryl Maguy-Stewart. “But what needs to happen is that people need to come forward so they have people to talk to. It can't be hearsay.”