Homeless man hassled by CAPSLO, Family Ties
February 23, 2013
Keeping them homeless
By KAREN VELIE, JOSH FRIEDMAN and DANIEL BLACKBURN
(Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series about San Luis Obispo County Homeless Services and the nonprofits managing the program. See Social Security’s letter stopping Cliff Anderson’s disability payments and a reported accounting of his funds held by Family Ties at the bottom of this story.)
A San Luis Obispo nonprofit reported that it has hoarded $5,000 of a formerly homeless client’s Social Security benefits, despite previously claiming the account was nearly empty.
Family Ties then reported the violation to the Social Security Administration after Cliff Anderson, who transferred more than $40,000 to the nonprofit, told the organization he would no longer use its services, and requested his money back. After receiving news of the amount Family Ties had saved, Social Security stopped Anderson’s disability benefits.
Lisa Niesen, president of Family Ties, said earlier this month that she had virtually nothing in Anderson’s account even though he had signed over $41,420 in Social Security payments to the nonprofit since 2009.
Niesen, who also holds the title of San Luis Obispo County’s chief deputy public guardian, first said that most of the hundreds of accounts managed by her Family Ties operation contained only $20 to $30. After Anderson provided copies of his Social Security records showing he was owed nearly $20,000 by Family Ties, Niesen said there was less than $2,000 in his account.
This week, Neisen adjusted that amount again, telling Social Security that Anderson’s account contained exactly $5,000 — meaning he would lose his Social Security benefits. Federal laws require that a person on Social Security Disability Insurance not save more than $2,000 in order to insure that the money is used for the recipient’s needs. If more than $2,000 is saved, SSI benefits are suspended until the money is spent down.
Niesen reported the new figures after Anderson said he wanted to withdraw from Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo (CAPSLO) case management, and recover the thousands of dollars from his Social Security income held in trust by Family Ties, the nonprofit that is tied to CAPSLO.
On Feb. 18, Anderson’s attorney, Stew Jenkins, sent a demand for the return of Anderson’s money. On Thursday, after several harassing comments from the Prado Day Center staff attempting to learn Anderson’s new address, Anderson was given a check from Family Ties for $100 of the $5,000 Family Ties claims to hold.
Shortly before he picked up his check, Niesen called Anderson and informed him that she had sent an accounting to the Social Security Administration, which would cause a change in his benefits.
Social Security officials then informed Anderson that his $5,000 held by Family Ties exceeds the allowable level, and that his SSI benefits were being suspended.
When he read the letter from Social Security, Anderson wept and expressed fear of becoming homeless again.
He currently is in privately-arranged housing, but is unable to pay his rent and other bills because Niesen controls his funds. Niesen called Anderson Thursday at about 9 p.m. telling him he could lose his housing if he did not tell her where he lived “so she could write a check for his rent.”
Anderson’s attorney responded by calling Niesen and ordering her to not to have any further contact with Anderson.
Instead, Neisen arrived at Anderson’s rental residence Friday morning, demanding his signature on documents, ostensibly to return his own money to him and cancel their business relationship. She then said she would return later with more papers for him to sign.
Attorney Jenkins is considering a restraining order to keep Niesen from harassing his client, he said.
Anderson agreed to make Family Ties his representative payee in 2009 after becoming homeless in the aftermath of a fire at his apartment. CAPSLO case managers told Anderson his money would be used to help place the now 69-year-old into housing.
However, the system intended to help San Luis Obispo’s homeless instead often keeps them indigent, preventing them from having sufficient resources for even basic needs like clothing, food, medical care, and personal comforts.
Almost four years later and after collecting $41,420 in Anderson’s payments while he remained in CAPSLO’s case management program, the agency continued to keep the bulk of Anderson’s money — usually providing him with only $400 of the $970 in Social Security benefits he receives monthly.
CAPSLO officials require homeless individuals to provide 50 to 70 percent of their income to CAPSLO or a designated payee in order to have a guaranteed bed at the shelter or an overnight parking space. Homeless people who receive Social Security payments are required to make Family Ties their representative payee, with an agreement that if they quit case management, their funds will be returned to them within 24 hours.
“The client’s funds should be returned to them within a 24-hour-period, unless it is a weekend or a holiday,” said Jim Famalette, CAPSLO’s chief operating officer, in a recent email to CalCoastNews.
Several homeless people have related the difficulty of getting their SSI money back after quitting case management. Family Ties, according to its nonprofit organizational rules, is only permitted to work with clients deemed mentally incapacitated or developmentally disabled.
As part of the process of making Family Ties their payees, clients are deemed mentally incapacitated through the Social Security Administration. To break away from Family Ties, clients must see a doctor and undergo a competency exam. Then after about 30 days, the recipient can apply for control over his benefits.
After discovering that he had been deemed “mentally incapacitated,” Anderson visited a physician.
“Memory skills long and short term intact, adequate math skills, oriented, and appropriate,” his doctor informed Social Security officials.