Homeless shelter staff didn’t check the bathrooms for a week for missing man. Then residents reported a rancid smell

The tragic incident has encouraged a wide range of reforms across the services and San Francisco’s homelessness department

Amelia Neath
Thursday 30 May 2024 19:03 BST
James Martin Rinkes, 53, was found dead from a fentanyl overdose in a bathroom at the Alder Hotel, a supportive housing complex in San Francisco
James Martin Rinkes, 53, was found dead from a fentanyl overdose in a bathroom at the Alder Hotel, a supportive housing complex in San Francisco (Google Maps)

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A hotel used as a supporting housing complex did not check an out-of-order bathroom after a man was reported missing, only to smell something rancid and discover his decomposing body.

The Adler Hotel, which is home to 116 supportive housing units provided by the Episcopal Community Services (ECS) in San Francisco, has been given areas of immediate action after a man was reportedly found dead, after he went missing over a week ago, in an out-of-order bathroom in the facility.

James Martin Rinkes, 53, was still deemed as missing when a tenant reported an awful smell coming out of a bathroom in January, according to a five-page report from San Francisco’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle.

The bathroom had been out of order for several weeks, and staff only went in and checked inside after people noticed a liquid with a “foul odor” seeping out from under the door.

Once opened, they reportedly found Rinkes lying over the bathroom’s two toilets, having died of a fentanyl overdose, city records showed.

Speaking to Rinkes’ older sister, Connie McCort, who lives in Ohio, she told the Chronicle that her brother had been “homeless for a long time” and that her family had lost contact with him.

“Homeless people have it really hard, and I knew Jimmy would never turn his life around,” she told the outlet.

She said that she received her brother’s ashes two weeks ago from the San Francisco Medical Examiner, and spread them on the graves of his mother, father and his brother.

While she admits that her brother was “too lost”, she did say that the “employees in those homes are getting paid and should be looking after people living there. None of it adds up”.

City officials claim that the hotel staff failed to do a comprehensive search of the hotel after he was reported as missing and failed to check the bathroom until several days after the foul smell was reported.

The officials relayed in the report, that the Chronicle obtained, that there was a “lack of communication and collaboration” between property managers, janitors and desk clerks, among other staff, which led to the man’s body going undiscovered for days in the shared bathroom.

After the horrific incident surrounding Rinkes’ body unknowingly being left to decompose, the City’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing wrote that there are areas that need immediate improvement.

This included having the hotel staff do more rigorous searches if a tenant goes missing, having higher quality wellness check training, as well as suggesting that ESC staff and property managers do a weekly site walkthrough.

ECS told the outlet in a statement that the incident has “prompted (the homelessness department) to update their Wellness Check policies across the entire system”.

“We are in compliance with all of the recommendations,” the community services organization wrote. “We made the majority of the recommendations to HSH after our own internal investigations, and most had been implemented even prior to receiving the Corrective Action Notice.”

Since 1983, ECS has provided services to individuals and families experiencing homelessness in San Francisco, serving more than 13,000 people this past year by helping them obtain housing, jobs, shelter and essential services, their website states.

Deborah Bouck, a spokesperson for the city’s homelessness department, also confirmed that “ECS has complied with all components of the corrective action letter related to the Alder Hotel”.

Ms Bouch added that, like what ECS said, this incident has galvanized reforms within their department, such as working on small revisions to their wellness and emergency safety check policy.

This will include adding “information on checking shared bathrooms and other common areas as part of the wellness check process”, Ms Bouch said.

The Independent has contacted ECS and San Francisco’s Homelessness Department for further comment.

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