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.


157 Comments

  1. taxpayer says:

    Once again I ask, where is the San Luis Obispo Grand Jury? In the case of Gibson, Aispuro, Hill and Torres there needs to be a full scale investigation of all their emails, accounts and everything else that affects both the taxpayers and the homeless. Enough is enough. I would hope that, at the very least, the other Supervisors will speak up and agendize a discussion of a long series of incidents that leave the public wondering if they can believe anything they are being told. There are some good people on the Board. It’s time for them to step forward and speak up for honestly and decency in local government.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 63 Thumb down 4

    • panflash says:

      Several people have alluded to the annual SLO County civil grand jury with regard to this CAPSLO issue as well as the on-going Bruce Gibson saga. Just a quick note of clarification: First, basically, the jurisdiction of the annual County grand jury is on civil matters, while criminal matters are generally referred to specifically-appointed criminal grand juries. It is possible that a criminal grand jury or other such criminal investigation will be initiated on either or both of these issues.
      Second, the cycle of the annual civil grand jury is based on the state/county fiscal year- that is, July 1 – June 30. The first order of business of each civil grand jury is to decide which specific issues to study, and issue selection is concluded by September/October. Then the next five to seven months are spent intensively examining those specific issues. Then the following three months or so are spent drafting and re-drafting the report findings on each issue, culminating with the public issuance of their findings just prior to the expiration of their term in late June.
      As this is already the first week of February, the current grand jury is probably already beginning to wrap up the study of each of their issues and entering the report drafting stage. Bottom line: if they haven’t already, it is almost certainly too late for this current civil grand jury to take on either the CAPSLO or Gibson issue, much less both.
      However, the good news here is that, in about a month or so, the County will begin the process of soliciting prospective members of the 2013-14 civil grand jury. That new grand jury will then be appointed probably in May, and then the process will begin for that new group.
      So here’s what you can do: First, watch for the forthcoming ads soliciting grand jury members in the next few months, or just call the County Clerk’s office directly, to volunteer for the 2013-14 grand jury. If you are selected, you will then be able to actively push for selection of your preferred topics of investigation. Second, if you do not volunteer or are not selected or cannot serve for some other reason, you can submit a letter directly to the new grand jury immediately after they are seated to request that they examine an issue of importance to you. The grand jury is required to keep your letter confidential.
      Be advised that the civil grand jury is statutorily limited in its powers, and its deliberative process requires a great deal of time, energy and patience. But if you do feel strongly about these two issues, or any other such issues, this is your chance to step to the plate and work hands-on to address matters of importance to you and to our county. Go for it- the County in some years has a paucity of applicants for the grand jury- you might just get selected. But also be aware that you will be required to keep all proceedings of the grand jury confidential, so that would limit your posting and public discussion of the issues and proceedings.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 3

  2. Myself says:

    Well, nothing in todays tribune, nor has Mr Hill made a defensive move for Capslo, this should get good in the next couple days,maybe the BOS will finally break down and say/do something instead of sitting on their hands.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 30 Thumb down 3

  3. mkaney says:

    As much as some of you will groan at this… if you really want to benefit the homeless then this needs to be handled the good ol’ boy way. In other words, if you bring in the state/federal government for audit and investigation, guess what? Those vultures are going to wind up getting all the money and no restitution is going to be had by the homeless. Quit sending in one vulture after another and let’s give our local authorities a very time-limited chance to handle this issue.

    How to go about this might be something Mr. Rice wants to coordinate. But do we really want all this money to get sucked back up by the SSA?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 23

    • MaryMalone says:

      The SSA will be interested in prosecuting those who they suspect are criminals. THAT is the value of bringing in the SSA.

      Do you really want these thieves loose on the streets? John Ryan Mason being loose on the streets is bad enough, but at least he didn’t prey on the local homeless people.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  4. SLOBIRD says:

    So having done a little research on Ms. Lisa C Niesen, she is incorporated with the State of California since 2000, she is the “registered agency” and listed as the president. She also shows a business location at 2180 Johnson Ave, as a case manager and this location is also the County of San Luis Obispo for the CMSP patients. San Luis Obispo County Health/Medical Services Provider(aka as CMSP) is the “Health Agency’s Health Systems Division determines eligibility, and provides utilization review and accounting services to ensure proper access to health care for the medically indigent”. So the big question: Does Ms Niesen work for the County as a eligible case manager for the indigent (HIPAASpace, NPI Number 1821276599) or CAPSLO as stated in the above article or both? The homeless don’t have a chance in this County; if they go to County Health Services they get to see Ms. Niesen as the case manager and if they go to CAPSLO they see the same person. Is this legal???

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 39 Thumb down 5

  5. racket says:

    I am having a little bit of a hard time digesting that this whole Rube Goldberg CAPSLO apparatus was created or continued to take money from people that have no money.

    Every crook knows, you rob banks because that’s where the money is.

    Robbing the homeless makes sense because they have fewer options for retribution, but I cannot believe anyone would make a career out of larceny upon the destitute. Then again, I can’t believe anyone would willingly submit to being Adam Hill’s girlfriend.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 45 Thumb down 4

    • ReelView says:

      lol

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

    • MaryMalone says:

      Racket, I disagree with you for the following reasons:

      1. Not all people will want to take the risks associated with robbing a bank, especially when they have access to money they can steal behind the scenes.

      2. This fraud appears to have been going on for some time, and there is no telling how far the fraud goes.

      3. Women who don’t have the skills to advance in government positions will sometimes stoop to the missionary position, if you get my drift. Dee Torres isn’t the first woman to have built her career on a set of knee pads, and she won’t be last.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  6. willieslo says:

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

    Dee should ask Stew Jenkins for more money because he cares.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 12

  7. msminiver says:

    This is some scheme, and Councilman Ashbaugh, Litchig, Codron all are adamant proponents of CAPSLO. If even a small portion of this story is true, then they are all guilty of conspiracy to commit elder abuse, fraud, extortion and since it involves many criminal types they could get a little more out of it. Adam Hill and his concubine need to crawl back under that rock they came from with Ashbaugh, Litchig and Codron. Codron used to head the City of San Luis Obispo’s affordable housing program which often works hand in hand, oh yes watch the other hand with CAPSLO.

    Tick toc, tic toc, the time is running out. Run while you can before you are arrested, prosecuted and convicted.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 59 Thumb down 5

  8. slojustice says:

    Another prime example of how homelessness has become an industry for these pseudo bureaucrats. The more “clients” these vultures get the bigger their program becomes. I would not doubt it that dee and adam will get the city and county will pay for ads to attract their “clients”. The corruption is becoming an epidemic.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 45 Thumb down 4

  9. HML says:

    I for one would like to know what the SLO city council intends to do about this scandal! Council members and police officers have treated homeless people terribly for at least the past year. Plus, they have consistently defended corrupt CAPSLO. Council members must make sincere efforts to heal the rift they have created in this city and soon. Can we impeach them?

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 45 Thumb down 6