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Ronald McDonald House Won’t Let Some Parents With Criminal Records Stay Near Their Sick Kids, Lawsuit Says

A federal complaint filed today alleges that the Ronald McDonald House is discriminating against people with sick children who happen to have been convicted of certain crimes in the past. The ACLU, among other groups, alleges the rule violates the federal Fair Housing Act.

This photo shows a man dressed as Ronald McDonald speaking into a microphone during a parade.
Lindsey Armstrong / Wikimedia Commons

The Ronald McDonald House refused to provide housing to Juan Mieles while his son underwent cancer treatments based on the father’s conviction from more than ten years earlier, according to a federal lawsuit Mieles filed today against the Ronald McDonald House of the Greater Hudson Valley and Ronald McDonald House Charities, Inc. (RMH).

The suit states that, on Jan. 27, 2022, Mieles’s 17-year-old son, Anthony, was admitted to a hospital about an hour away from their home to receive chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant, and radiation. Mieles and his partner say they met with a staff member from the RMH and were put in overflow housing at a hotel as the Ronald McDonald House was full.

The parents checked in on the evening of Jan. 31, 2022. The following morning, they say they received a phone call from an RMH employee telling them they had to leave immediately because the background check on Mieles had turned up a criminal conviction.

The suit—filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the Legal Action Center—alleges that RMH’s ban on people with criminal histories disproportionately harms Black and Latinx families, violates the federal Fair Housing Act, and contravenes the New York State Human Rights Law. In New York, three-quarters of formerly incarcerated people are Black or Latinx, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. The state’s law enforcement agencies have long come under fire for practices and policies, such as stop and frisk, that target Black and Latinx community members. The complaint states that Mieles is Latino.

“Federal and state regulators have long sounded the alarm that blanket criminal record screening practices like Defendants’ policy of rigid exclusion and broad statements that deter people with criminal history from applying for housing violate the law and raise substantial fair housing concerns,” the complaint states.

The Ronald McDonald House provides temporary housing to caregivers so they can stay close to their hospitalized children. The Ronald McDonald House of the Greater Hudson Valley’s website states the charity “provides hope, help and a home-away-from-home for families of children requiring critical care.”

The RMH and the RMH of the Greater Hudson Valley did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The suit says that, on Feb. 4, 2022, the RMH sent Mieles a letter stating that he was denied housing because of information found in his background check. A member of Anthony’s nursing team and an advocate from the Fortune Society, a New York-based reentry group, asked RMH to reconsider.

In an email to the Fortune Society, the Hudson Valley RMH’s then-executive director wrote that the “background check policy states that any individual convicted of a crime against another person will be denied services, regardless of the duration of time since the conviction” and the decision to deny Mieles housing “was made solely on the facts returned to us in the report and the policy we have in place,” the suit states.

Unable to stay close to the hospital, Mieles and his family drove more than 100 miles round-trip between the hospital and their home almost every day of Anthony’s five-week hospitalization, according to the suit.

“Mr. Mieles and Ms. Aly [his partner] felt distraught over not being able to have a family member with Anthony at all hours permitted by the Hospital,” the complaint says. “Anthony sometimes woke up in his hospital room alone and wondered where his family was when they were caught in traffic and running late.”

Anthony’s cancer has since spread, which will require additional treatments and at least a six-week hospital stay, the suit says.

“It was heartbreaking to see him suffering and not be able to be with him all the time,” Mieles said in a press release. “I can’t even think about how my family will get through this all over again.”