Last summer, Felicia Martinez says, she had to make a choice: Lie, or lose her job.

Martinez worked for seven months at Our Father’s House homeless shelter in Fitchburg and told GBH News that her boss, Kevin MacLean, ordered her to falsify paperwork in order to deny some homeless individuals access to the shelter.

Martinez is one of six former Our Father’s House employees who have come forward to GBH News in recent weeks alleging that they endured months, or years, of his verbal and sexual harassment while also being directed to discriminate against homeless shelter clients and falsify shelter records.

And several former employees said they filed grievances with the shelter’s leadership that received little scrutiny or punishment.

The assertions made by former employees are the second set of allegations levied against MacLean this year.

Fitchburg police are investigating allegations that he physically and sexually assaulted homeless individuals. Those allegations, some of which reach back five or six years, were raised in January by advocates for the homeless in hearings before the Human Rights Commission.

After GBH News reported on those allegations, Our Father’s House placed MacLean on paid administrative leave Feb. 26, and announced plans to launch an internal investigation into the advocates’ allegations.

MacLean did not respond to multiple interview requests from GBH News.

Our Father’s House Inc. Board President and former State Sen. Robert Antonioni did not respond to interview requests.

Doug Pizzi, a spokesperson hired by Our Father’s House, declined requests for an interview with Executive Director Judith Nest-Pasierb.

Informed about the latest allegations, Pizzi referred to them as “personnel matters.” Our Father's House hired a third-party investigator on March 2, he said.

"The investigator has broad discretion to determine the inquiry’s parameters, direction and interview subjects," Pizzi wrote in an email. "When the OFH Board of Directors receives the investigator’s findings, the board will decide how to proceed and notify all appropriate parties."

External investigation sought

GBH News confirmed, through documents submitted by Our Father’s House to the Human Rights Commission, that this is the second time the organization has investigated MacLean’s conduct.

Former staff members said that MacLean spoke openly about one result of the previous internal investigation: He was instructed to videotape his work for his protection and the protection of those around him.

Former employee Gary Poulin said MacLean made light of that investigation.

“He basically was laughing,” Poulin said. “He basically [was] just talking like, ‘I got away with it.’”

That left former employees with little faith that MacLean will be reprimanded this time, they said.

State Rep. Natalie Higgins, D-Leominster, whose constituents use the Fitchburg shelter, said that she is “incredibly concerned” about the allegations being made about MacLean, some of which she said she brought to Nest-Pasierb’s attention years ago.

Higgins said an external investigation is needed.

“I do believe that we need an outside investigation into this, given the length and breadth of the allegations,” Higgins told GBH News.

Higgins said that during a Nov. 8, 2018 meeting at her district office Nest-Pasierb dismissed advocates’ allegations about MacLean mistreating shelter clients.

Nest-Pasierb told GBH News in February that she was unaware of the allegations prior to January, when advocates raised them before the Human Rights Commission.

Allegations of verbal and sexual harassment

Interviewed over the past two months, former employees said MacLean used fear, intimidation and humiliation to rule the workplace.

Concerned MacLean would retaliate if their identities were published, three of the former employees asked GBH News to use pseudonyms when referring to them.

“Kevin is really good at berating people and making people feel like garbage, but at the same time twisting it and making them feel appreciated,” said a woman who asked to be called “Jane.” “It was just very manipulative.”

Former employees said that MacLean made remarks that were sexual in nature, including asking about their sex lives and openly telling them about his sex life.

“Kevin has made comments about his wife, saying that his wife has a big tongue,” a reference to oral sex, Martinez said.

Former staff said that MacLean constantly threatened to fire people. But when they sought employment elsewhere MacLean told them that he would sabotage those efforts.

“He said, ‘I'm going to tell them how sh---y of a worker you are and that he will regret the day he ever hired you,’” said Jane.

Several former employees said they were sickened and made miserable by MacLean’s alleged harassment.

“There was one night where I literally puked my guts out because I was so scared of him,” said a woman who asked to be called “Bobbie.”

Martinez said she often cried at home after her work shifts and eventually sought treatment for anxiety.

After her husband was murdered, Martinez said MacLean gossiped about his death with her co-workers, leading them to question her about it.

“He just added to the fire,” Martinez said. “He hit me in my lowest, and I didn’t appreciate it.”

Grievances prompted retaliation

Three former employees told GBH News they reported MacLean’s alleged verbal and sexual harassment to Nest-Pasierb. They said their reports were not held in confidence and that only intensified MacLean’s harsh treatment.

Sometimes MacLean would directly question them about grievances; other times, former employees said, MacLean retaliated by cutting their hours or instructing them to complete work they weren’t initially assigned.

Three other former employees said they did not report the allegations to management because leadership acted like MacLean was infallible.

“He is like the [Our Father’s House] angel, Godsend person,” said Jane. “He could do no wrong in their eyes.”

All of the former employees said that they left work on bad terms with MacLean. Some said they quit; others said they were fired.

Falsified documents

The former employees said MacLean routinely instructed them to falsify documentation about shelter occupancy.

They said that the shelter occupancy logs listed clients as present after those individuals had checked out of the shelter.

“It would happen maybe once, twice a week where he would hold a bed for at least one night without anybody in it,” said a man who asked to be called “Johnny." “Usually it would go [on] longer than that."

As a result, even though the shelter had vacancies, some homeless individuals requesting a bed were denied access, the former staff members said.

Asked about the practice described by former staff, a spokesperson for the state Department of Housing and Community Development, which oversees shelters, declined to comment and said the agency assumes all shelter providers are “acting in good faith.”

The spokesperson said the state does allow shelter management to reserve beds in some instances, such as if a client leaves for treatment at the emergency room and is believed to be returning to the shelter. But there isn’t a specific policy that governs the practice.

In June 2020, Martinez said, she forged the record of a homeless individual on MacLean's orders, as a way to justify his denying the man entry into the shelter for five consecutive nights, despite beds being available.

After the man threatened to file a complaint with the city, Martinez said MacLean called staff and instructed them to create a case file stating the man was incontinent, a problem Martinez said the client experienced during a previous stay due to an issue with a prescription medication.

Being listed as incontinent would mean the client needed a higher level of care than the shelter could provide.

Martinez said she knew she was being asked to lie but felt she had to follow MacLean’s orders to keep her job.

Vetting homeless individuals

Several former staff members said they believe MacLean ordered them to discriminate against shelter clients.

“There was a screening process specifically so Kevin could vet these homeless people,” said Johnny.

According to former employees, shelter admittance at Our Father’s House was a subjective process governed by MacLean, who almost always told staff which homeless individuals could stay at the shelter.

They said MacLean often required staff to ask homeless individuals for detailed descriptions of their temporary dwellings. If they reported living in a car they would be required to tell staff the license plate number and where the vehicle was parked.

If MacLean wasn’t satisfied with the homeless individual’s answer, shelter entry was denied, former staff said.

Both the DHCD and United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, another agency that oversees shelters, require verification of homelessness for shelter stays. That verification includes a client telling shelter employees that they’re homeless, a referral from another housing or homeless service provider, or a written observation by an outreach worker.

The process is meant to be as inclusive as possible and help assure homeless individuals have shelter, the spokespeople said.

“HUD encourages recipients to implement a housing-first approach, which means avoiding implementing policies that place a stringent burden on persons accessing housing or shelter and maintaining their placement in the program,” a HUD spokesperson said.

‘Sunday Socials’

MacLean also required staff to collect personal information on clients, including Social Security numbers, the former staff said, even though there is no requirement for this information.

Staff members were told on Sundays to send MacLean a list, by text message, of each shelter client's name, date of birth, and Social Security number — a practice the staff called “Sunday Socials.”

A hard copy of the list was also placed in MacLean’s work mailbox, they said.

Former staff members said that MacLean used the information to conduct Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) background checks, which detail crimes an individual has been charged with in Massachusetts.

MacLean would often use the information to determine an individuals’ shelter eligibility, former staff members said.

Spokespeople for both HUD and the DHCD confirmed neither Social Security numbers nor CORI checks are required for shelter entry.

And in spring 2020, DHCD updated its policies to be expressly more inclusive. Under the new policy, a client cannot be barred from a shelter due to criminal history, drunkenness or drug use, among other reasons a spokesperson said, with some exceptions for variations in state law. The agency is working with shelters statewide to implement those new standards, they said.

A spokesperson for DCHD added that reporting a homeless individuals’ Social Security number to its Homelessness Management Information System is considered helpful for case management — but it is not required.

Former employees said that they were unaware if MacLean did that or not.

Help for some, but not others

Former employees said shelter rules limited stays to three months for men and six months for women. However, those rules were ignored for certain clients who were allowed to stay longer. Meanwhile, other clients in need were refused services.

One male shelter client was allowed to stay six months during the winter “because the guy would shovel the sidewalks and would watch staff and report to Kevin,” Jane said.

Another couple was allowed to stay for eight months, according to former employees.

Former employee Gary Poulin said MacLean would often violate the confidentiality of shelter clients; even while instructing staff about the importance of the policy.

Poulin said MacLean reported shelter clients to local police when MacLean believed there were active warrants for their arrest.

MacLean was selective about offering help to clients with substance use issues, according to former employees.

At that time, shelter clients were prohibited from staying there if they were actively using alcohol or drugs.

MacLean would allow certain clients to check into the shelter smelling of alcohol, instructing them to go to their room and "sleep it off" or telling employees to keep an eye on them, former employees said. But other shelter clients, who former employees said they believed were sober, would be accused of using drugs or alcohol and be kicked out by MacLean.

He also denied those clients drug or sobriety tests that could have proven whether they had violated shelter policy, former employees said.

Some former employees said they were instructed to get MacLean’s permission before calling 9-1-1 in an emergency if he wasn’t at the shelter. Sometimes it took several minutes before he responded.

Martinez said she disobeyed that order when she believed a client was having a stroke. She said when MacLean found out he yelled at her, saying the shelter gets billed for calling 9-1-1.

MacLean often portrayed himself as a help to homeless individuals when in public. But he would denigrate them behind shelter doors, former employees said.

“You're telling these people that if they know somebody in need of help for a shelter, that you would help them. But that is not what's going on here,” Martinez said.

And Martinez and the other former employees believe it is time for an outside authority to thoroughly investigate the allegations, which they believe have never been seriously pursued.

Update: This story has been updated to include information that Our Father's House retained an investigator as of March 2. After this story was published, spokesman Doug Pizzi sent the following statement: On March 2, 2021, Our Father’s House (OFH) hired an investigator to look into allegations of misconduct by an employee, Director of Homelessness, Kevin MacLean. OFH placed Mr. MacLean on paid administrative leave on Feb. 26, 2021, pending the investigation’s outcome. The investigator has broad discretion to determine the inquiry’s parameters, direction and interview subjects. When the OFH Board of Directors receives the investigator’s findings, the board will decide how to proceed and notify all appropriate parties.

Correction: This story has been updated. A previous version incorrectly described Rep. Higgins' district.