Alleged homeless advocates accused of stealing from the poor

February 4, 2013

Cliff AndersonKeeping them homeless

By KAREN VELIE, JOSH FRIEDMAN and DANIEL BLACKBURN

(Editor’s note: This is the first in a series about San Luis Obispo County Homeless Services and the non-profit that manages the program. See Cliff Anderson’s struggles at the bottom of this story.)

Cliff Anderson lost his home in 2008 when a fire broke out in his apartment. Almost four years later and after making $41,420 in payments to remain in Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo’s case management, Anderson still has no home.

“They said they are going to get me into housing any day,” Anderson said last week.

However, he remains in the Maxine Lewis Homeless Shelter — and nearly all of the money he’s entrusted to CAPSLO’s case management appears to have disappeared. CAPSLO’s administration requires homeless who sleep in the shelter or a car parked in their lot to make the program the payee for their government checks. Case management then keeps 50 to 70 percent of a client’s money with claims it is placed into a secure account to be used in the future to pay for housing.

Anderson’s situation with CAPSLO is not unique. CalCoastNews has spent two years investigating CAPSLO and interviewing people the quasi-public agency claims to serve. CCN has learned that CAPSLO has engaged in practices that have homeless people giving the partnership much of the public assistance money they receive, but getting little or nothing in return.

In Anderson’s case, he has signed over his disability benefits to case management for the last three and a half years, Social Security records show.

CAPSLO administration claims collected money belongs to the client, and is being saved in order to get them into housing. There is no charge for staying at the shelter.

In Social Security benefits, Anderson brings in about $970 a month; CAPSLO permits him to keep $400 per month which leaves case management owing him about $20,000.

In addition, his case manager charges Anderson $25 every few months to run credit checks to determine if he qualifies for housing, and he is required pay about $37 a month for others to manage his money.

The federal government requires that entities trying to become payees for disabled clients receiving SSI attend special meetings where Social Security officials inform them that people on SSI must spend the benefits they receive. Disability money is required to be expended each month on necessities, not saved in the bank. People on SSI can only save a total of $2,000 out of their SSI payments.

And each year, the entities, known as payees, have to confirm to the Social Security Administration that recipients have not saved more than $2,000. It is considered fraud to misreport.

An SSI recipient or payee is responsible for returning payments to the federal government after the $2,000 limit has been reached. That means CAPSLO or Family Ties, a company retained by the agency, owes the Social Security Administration approximately $37,000 for misreporting Anderson’s account.

But CAPSLO says it doesn’t owe anything. CAPSLO Chief Operating Officer Jim Famalette claims that CAPSLO’s case managers are not the payees taking Anderson’s money. Anderson and the people like him are working with Family Ties, not CAPSLO, according to Famalette.

“We do not act as a payee for those funds,” Famalette said in an email to CalCoastNews.

But Lisa Niesen, Family Ties’ owner, said her company is not the payee getting the SSI payments for CAPSLO’s homeless clients. In any event, most of the client accounts contain minimal balances, she said.

“None of the clients we have from case management have more than a few thousand dollars in their account, and most have just $20 to $30,” Niesen said.

Several of CAPSLO’s homeless clients said they do not have an agreement with Family Ties. Niesen said her company’s agreement is with CAPSLO, not the case management clients.

SSI records for Anderson list Family Ties as the recipient for his money, but when homeless clients have questions about their accounts, they are required to deal with CAPSLO case managers.

In the past two years, homeless clients of CAPSLO have approached CalCoastNews with allegations that CAPSLO case managers often refuse to return all client monies when they leave the program or sometimes give a small percentage of what they are owed. If clients complain, they are barred from receiving CAPSLO homeless services.

Several current and former case managers have also said that they believe money is being embezzled from the clients’ accounts.

For years, CAPSLO administrators have refused to respond to allegations of missing funds, or to answer questions about what happens to a client’s money if they die.

On Friday, Famalette responded, saying that the allegations against a CAPSLO manager are a “baseless innuendo not worthy of a response.”

Meanwhile, CAPSLO is working to get approval for a 200-bed shelter and an overnight parking program. The parking program eventually would accommodate 200 vehicles.

Dee Torres asks the San Luis Obispo City Council to approve more aggressive treatment of the homeless who do not enter case management.

Dee Torres asks the San Luis Obispo City Council to approve more aggressive treatment of the homeless who do not enter case management.

In March, the San Luis Obispo City Council entertained CAPSLO’s proposal to increase ticketing of homeless who sleep in their vehicles without agreeing to participate in case management, which requires giving CAPSLO case management a portion of their income.

Proponents of the more aggressive ticketing include San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Adam Hill. Hill is in a relationship with CAPSLO’s Homeless Services Coordinator Dee Torres. Torres and Hill did not respond to requests for comment.

When Torres brought the proposal to the SLO City Council, Hill asked the council not to heed comments by members of the public who oppose Torres’ proposal. He said that the issue of homelessness is too complicated for most lay people to understand.

Torres argued for the change, claiming that CAPSLO had already managed to get five homeless clients in the parking program into housing. One client, Gulf War veteran Kimberly Frey-Griffin, said the claim was not accurate. Though she did get into housing, she said it was in spite of CAPSLO.

From December 2011 through May 2012, Frey-Griffin paid her case manager $25 to $50 a week she earned from cleaning houses. After more than five months in the program, on her own, she found and paid to get herself into housing. When she asked for her approximately $700 back, her case manager handed her a check for $133, and then added Frey-Griffin to the CAPSLO list of housing success stories.

Nevertheless, public officials throughout the county, many of whom sit on the CAPSLO Board of Directors, are the first to applaud CAPSLO for its work with the homeless.

 

Cliff Anderson’s struggles

He is a shell of a man, 6 feet tall and only 158 pounds, afflicted with severe edema and varicose veins, he lives in unrelenting agony.

He spends his days exposed to the elements, weathered beyond his years, trying to navigate the dangerous and homeless world of violent drug addicts, the mentally ill and those looking to steal what little he has.

He is a 69-year-old San Luis Obispo native who worked as a butcher most of his life, spending about a decade employed at the United Meat Market in San Luis Obispo.

It is a difficult life at the Maxine Lewis Shelter. Staff awaken clients at 6 a.m. to do chores, and then require the clients to leave by 7 a.m. Cliff Anderson often sits by the railroad tracks waiting for the 10 a.m. bus to the Prado Day Center, where he is exposed to the elements because CAPSLO management contends there is not enough money available to open the warming center.

The Prado warming center has been open only four days this year, despite a $25,000 donation last year from PG&E to benefit energy efficiency at Prado. The money was spent installing an air conditioning unit in the staff office area.

Cliff Anderson's foot

Cliff Anderson’s foot

Anderson must be waiting outside the shelter each night at 5 p.m., even though check-in does not start until 6 p.m. Once inside, clients are not permitted to watch television except on Saturday and Sunday evenings. Conversely, the North County shelter allows their clients to watch television each evening until 10 p.m.

Anderson’s cowboy boots are worn and uncomfortable. His feet are swollen and covered in veins. Anderson said a doctor had told him to get new shoes. But he has no money.

Nevertheless, his numerous requests to case managers — some witnessed by CalCoastNews reporters — to provide some of his own money to purchase a new pair of shoes have been rebuffed or ignored. Other homeless clients of CAPSLO tell similar stories of their medical needs not being met because their case managers refuse to provide the clients own money to do so.

 

Keeping Them Homeless, the series.


158 Comments

  1. Cindy says:

    Why would Family Ties (which appears to be a one person office working out of Prado) deny that they’re the payee? SSI records clearly indicate that the payments (at least for Anderson) go directly to family ties. That sort of denial usually indicates knowledge of wrong doing in my opinion. At the same time, family ties doesn’t discuss client accounts with the rightful owners or return any funds directly and all clients are forced into case management by CAPSLO and all monies and returns are discussed only with CAPSLO. It would appear that someone has created a rather obfuscated accounting program here. In the mean time. Anderson is owed over 20K from the payee i.e. Family Ties but, according to ” the payee ” no one has more than a few thousand $ in their account!

    BTW- The Family Ties that works out of Prado has named itself after another group called Family Ties that works in SLO but not with the shelter or any of its funding! More convolution!

    SSI audit department, where are you??

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 46 Thumb down 5

    • r0y says:

      Maybe they took a page right out of ACORN’s playbook. Talk about scamming mess…

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 15

  2. BeenThereDoneThat says:

    Wow I wonder if this is how Cal-Fire and Parks and Rec. got started putting their little stashes aside. Just a little here and there to run things.

    Second wow, a politician involved. (Hill) That wow is sarcasm.

    ENOUGH!!! I say how does one go about getting either the state Attorney General and or the F.B.I. involved into looking into this and all involved? Sounds to me that CCN has shown they have run afoul of S.S. and that alone should be looked into. The time is now.

    Last thanks AGAIN to CCN. I have lived in this county for almost 33 years and the bullshit that has gone unreported till the last four or five years is embarrasing. It is time for the good ol boy network of this county to be sent packing.

    Oh and to Sewer Gas over at the Trib. who I bet lurks these boards, when are you going to do a piece, about that piece of you know what you work for, asking WHY don’t they report? HMM? Or is it possible they are part of the good ol boys? What say you gaseous one???

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 51 Thumb down 4

  3. Myself says:

    The county threw a fit, the liberal rag tribune made it big headlines Duval takes money from the down and out, big huge problem when Dan ASKED the homeless/down and out for money to operate on, I believe it was about 300 $ a month and if they didn’t have it they could work around the place in lou of money,plus they attended meetings daily and had to be clean and sober.
    What does Hills girlfriend do for the money they force the down and out to sign over to them, it seems nothing and then they don’t even give it back when asked to.
    The problem here is the quasi govt agency’s that keep sprouting up, the air resorce board here in SLO, CA arb in SAC, these phoney agency’s do a half baked job of what they are susposed to do under some sort of guidelines set forth by the parent agency but they just don’t seem to report to anyone and they believe they are not accountable to the public that they rape and pilage.
    The monies these quasi agency’s steal from us is horbile and generally all the money does is pay bloated salarys, but we as the taxpayer are to blindly continue to pay for these follys.
    This organization is so full of lies and finger pointing that it should be shut down now and througly investigated, it smells like fraud to me and there could be some consequences if the right people look into this.
    Lets see what kind of story the trib breaks out on this.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 51 Thumb down 9

  4. isoslo says:

    WOW there needs to be a full scale investigation and financial audit immediately. It reminds me of the old joke about the three biggest lies..”I’m from the government and I’m here to help you”.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 49 Thumb down 4

  5. pismo20 says:

    I think all the city council people in SLO should start giving half their income to help pay these victims back and they owe an apology to Stew Jenkins and Saro Rizzo.

    How does one justify stealing a homeless man’s social security benefits. Probably, they are all drunks and drug addicts who need someone else to manage their money. How many times have Dee Torres and Adam Hill said that at council and supervisor meetings.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 52 Thumb down 5

  6. Cindy says:

    Obviously, there needs to be a full scale audit immediately. What appears to be going on with these funds is beyond anything that I care to comment on. The one thing I don’t trust is an audit that will be overseen by the county. The SSI administration has to get involved, I should think they will after seeing this article.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 60 Thumb down 4

    • Mr. Holly says:

      Yes Cindy, as I have mentioned before a full independent audit should be done at CAPSLO. It appears that there is no oversight for this organization. As I have mentioned before it surely would be interesting to see what their budget and apparent other sources of income is related to any achievements that they have made with the exception of high salaries and benefits received by Dee and friends.
      Officials should pay attention to ECHO in Atascadero and maybe direct their funds to the most productive homeless program in the County which operates mostly on donations and volunteers.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 41 Thumb down 5

      • Cindy says:

        I know our North County Shelter is run well. They offer as much help as possible and always have the warming shelter available when it’s cold and wet. I have tried to determine what if any relationship North County might have with CAPSLO as the gossip was recently rampant. Unfortunately, here is the bomb, CAPSLO is in charge of case management for North County! The upside is that North County doesn’t necessarily force those seeking shelter into case management and has nothing to do with it. I don’t believe ECHO has any involvement in CAPSLO or the likes of this questionable ‘case management’ either.

        The article say’s that this is the first in a series surrounding this investigation by CCN. In the mean time, I will continue to support the North County shelter and ECHO. Perhaps they should be running the SLO shelter!

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 26 Thumb down 4

  7. Scarlet says:

    Oh. My. God.

    This is disgusting. Beyond disgusting. No words…

    But felonies equal jail time, do they not? And the county and city are in SO deep here. I cannot believe my tax dollars went to harm my fellow citizens who were in distress.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 59 Thumb down 7

  8. danika says:

    There are absolutely NO word here. How do WE begin to help this man?

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 52 Thumb down 5

    • MarkJames says:

      It’s not just him. Consider all the funds that CAPSLO is the direct payee on.

      There are many mentally ill who have probably walked away or have no idea that CAPSLO is collecting their disability or social security payments, others die and I doubt that anyone is ever made aware that the deceased had a substantial savings account! Maybe CAPSLO refuses to open the warming shelter but rather exposes the homeless to the elements as much as possible in hopes that they will get sick and die . Dead men don’t ask about their money.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 50 Thumb down 7

    • MikeB says:

      The best way to help him and the others who may be in the same dilemma is to demand that the State Attorney General and/or the investigative body that oversees the Social Security Administration (U.S. Office of Inspector General) conduct a forensic audit)

      On face value this article is very disturbing.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 40 Thumb down 5

  9. StatusQuoJoe says:

    CAPSLO = Reverse Robin Hood.

    What about all the monies they are getting from the County and SLO City? That’s in the millions each year. It’s likely being mismanaged, too.

    Thanks again CCN for telling the stories that the Tribune won’t touch.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 56 Thumb down 5

    • PaulJones says:

      The Tribune will print another ‘damage control’ article (swamp gas) claiming that the homeless are all nuts and they will gloss over the fact that all those seeking shelter at the shelter are forced into case management where their money goes down a rabbit hole. As for those who try to avoid it by sleeping in their cars, well Adam Hill and his bed buddies have the police making certain that nobody sleeps for free as most homeless do qualify for some from of gov assistance and CAPSLO makes certain that they’re going to pocket those funds. Question is WHO is pocketing that money?

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 48 Thumb down 6

    • kayaknut says:

      “What about all the monies they are getting from the County and SLO City?” Where do you think the money to pay the bloated salaries and benefits comes from.

      Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 52 Thumb down 6

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