Homeless director accused of pocketing donations

March 18, 2013
Dee Torres

Dee Torres

KEEPING THEM HOMELESS

By KAREN VELIE, JOSH FRIEDMAN and DANIEL BLACKBURN

(Editor’s note: This is part of an ongoing series about San Luis Obispo County Homeless Services and the nonprofits managing the program.)

Homeless Services Coordinator Dee Torres routinely took gift cards intended for the needy and homeless for her own use, a number of former homeless service employees and ex-boyfriends say.

Torres kept the gift cards in her purse to use for family outings, gas, restaurants and Christmas presents for her friends, Ralph Almirol, the father of Torres’ middle child, said. Almirol said they especially enjoyed gift cards from Tom’s Toys on Higuera Street.

“We would give them to the kids,” Almirol said. “She used them like they were hers.”

Torres’ Homeless Services program comes under the umbrella of Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo (CAPSLO). Employees of both the Prado Day Center and the Maxine Lewis Shelter say that every Christmas, the homeless are remembered by the public with thousands of dollars in gift cards being donated for gas, groceries, restaurants and retail stores. All such donations are to be given to the homeless.

Almirol asked Torres about the cards and the homeless who were supposed to receive them, he said.

“People would give a lot of gift cards,” Almirol said. “I asked her once if she could get in trouble, she said there was no accounting for what is given, and most of them don’t deserve it.”

Other former boyfriends confirmed the allegations, though they wanted to remain unnamed because they are afraid that Torres or government officials will retaliate. Torres is engaged to San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Adam Hill. At least one of Torres’ former husbands relied on his marriage to her to obtain legal resident status, CAPSLO staffers and Almirol said.

Friends of Prado President Roy Rawlings and Torres did not respond to comment requests.

Workers at the homeless shelters said that apart from the rare occasion when a client would do chores such as painting an office, the cards were not provided to the homeless.

“We never saw the gift cards given out,” said Kathy Marti, a former three-year employee of CAPSLO. “Once the gift cards came in she would take them.”

Marti said she quit in 2010 after battling for better treatment of the homeless.

“I was so disillusioned because I never saw any progress,” Marti said. “When I first started working there I loved it, I felt I could move heaven and earth.”

More than a dozen former and current employees of CAPSLO said that Torres refused to give donated goods to the homeless unless they would do chores for her.

“There was so much stuff coming in,” said Carina Salazar, a former CAPSLO employee. “There was all kinds of stuff donated. A lot of stuff got tossed. We went over to the (CAPSLO) main office to complain, but no one would listen.”

Almirol said Torres would divvy up the best donations for family and friends.

“We would go through the donations and pick out the best toys for our kids,” Almirol said. “She would give other stuff to her friends.”

Employees and clients also question CAPSLO’s rule that homeless individuals must provide 50 to 70 percent of their income to CAPSLO in order to guarantee a bed at the shelter.

Richard Walker and his family turned to CAPSLO after they became homeless. CAPSLO required the Walkers, who were on welfare, to pay about $500 a month in cash to the family’s case manager, Walker said.

Despite paying CAPSLO approximately $500 a month, the Walkers still struggled to get necessities, such as baby diapers, from Torres, he said.

“We had to fight with them to buy things for our baby like diapers or rash cream,” Walker said. “We told Dee (Torres) we needed diapers. She told us to get diapers through them, but she would only give us three at a time and then she would get angry when we asked for more.”

After spending about a year and a half in the shelter on case management, the family decided to cancel so they would have enough money to purchase diapers and other necessities, Walker said. But Walker said his family did not receive all of the money they had signed over to case management.

“She gave us most of our money back in a check. She kept the $25 a month they charged us for holding on to it,” he said.

By opting out of case management, the family chose to take their chances on getting beds each night at the Maxine Lewis Homeless Shelter.

CAPSLO requires clients at the Maxine Lewis Homeless Shelter to be waiting outside by 5 p.m. though they may not enter the shelter until 6 p.m. Homeless clients not on case management draw a ticket out of a bucket for a chance to stay the night.

One night, the Walkers drew the right number, but CAPSLO staff told them they still could not stay at the shelter because their eight-month-old had pink eye, Walker said. They asked Torres to provide them a motel voucher. But Torres told the family they could not stay in a motel because they had a car in which to sleep.

“She said ‘no hotel, you have a car,’” Walker said. “Then she gave a hotel room to a man who had just had Lasik surgery.”

Joette Sunshine, a four-year employee of CAPSLO who has left her job, said she was working that night and witnessed the events. Sunshine said she was distressed that a family of four with a sick child was not provided a hotel room, while a man who could afford an expensive eye procedure was.

“Part of the deal not to be able to get a hotel room was if you had a vehicle and a certain income,” Sunshine said. “This man had more than $1,200 a month in income and a van. The motel money was there for people who needed it, yet the Walkers were denied a hotel room.”

Several years ago, the Walkers got into housing on their own, though they said that CAPSLO lists them as one of their housing “success” stories.

 

Keeping Them Homeless, the series.


396 Comments

  1. freshair says:

    Enter AB-5, the Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights and Fairness Act:

    http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201320140AB5

    (admin edit: link repair)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  2. The Gimlet Eye says:

    I swear that every time I look at the title of this article, my mind reads it as “Homeless Dictator.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 6

  3. Alaska64 says:

    After Jody Smith left, and Dee took over, it became a program that didnt care for the clients but only for numbers and stories to boost up sucess stories. There is very something very wrong with Dee Torres and how she manages her department. Biz was told by several to watch out for Dee and there have been many complaints made to Biz about her and how she runs the program. If Ronnie Nevarez was put in the position, we wouldnt be here talking about this situation. I am willing to speak to karen about the details that I know and will also be able to cooperate with the authorities if need be. Dee didnt even know what a casemanager did when she became director of homeless services.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 31 Thumb down 10

  4. Cindy says:

    To scorpio 2211

    You stated “When Ronnie was let go she came to me and told me she would work with me until I got my social security and I was housed. I’m so thankful for that because I was left as many others with no one to help. Ronnie helped me to get permanent housing in June of 09 and she took me to court when I was awarded my social security.”

    Why did Ronnie take you to court when your SSI was awarded? I can’t think of any reason for that unless you had been declared mentally incompetent during the process and Ronnie was making certain that CAPSLO would not be able to put their grubby mitts on your SSI benefits. It sounds like she took you to court to have you re-instated as competent. I could be wrong but I can’t think f any reason why she needed to “take you to court”. Your statement has bothered me all weekend and I think it’s worth questioning.

    Also I would like to point out that Cliff Anderson was placed in housing but Family Ties still continued to hold onto some of his his benefits. They were still keeping over $100.00 a month despite his need for those funds. Like I said, I think Ronnie was making certain that she cut you loose from the grip of the CAPSLO money grabbing rabbit hole.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 24 Thumb down 8

    • Nancy says:

      WOW, If CAPSLO did that without scorpios knowledge and it sounds like they did, then that is highly illegal. She was in this situation due to physical illness and her post is highly eloquent. This is very scary stuff to think that somebody at the department of SS is rubber stamping people as incompetent and giving control of their benefits to an agency designated by CAPSLO.

      The person who should be running the SLO shelter is Ronnie Navarez in my opinion. It sounds like she is highly competent and actually gets the job done.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 24 Thumb down 10

      • scorpio2211 says:

        I agree with you 100%!! Ronnie is one of the most genuine people I have ever met in my life. She really cared about all of us that she worked with. There was a time that she was the only case manager that was working because everyone else was out for over a month, Stacy had surgery, and I don’t remember why Amanda was gone. Anyway she worked morning to late night making sure we were all taken care of! She brought so much to the program, I know things would have been so different if she were in charge.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 8

    • scorpio2211 says:

      I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear. Ronnie took me to my social security hearing because my case had to go in front of a judge to determine if I was eligible to receive benefits. I spent over a year waiting for approval and when Ronnie was terminated I was only months from my social security hearing. Ronnie was afraid that without the proper support my case would be denied. She knew that no one else would present the case as well as she could. She had worked very hard to insure I had a very detailed case. Ronnie assisted me with gathering all my medical records and physician statements for my attorney. She completed the paperwork that was required by someone other than myself who had knowledge of my medical history. After I was released from the hospital Ronnie took me to all of my doctor appointments. She learned about my condition, tracked my medical history, care, and medications. She knew about and understood my diagnosis and prognosis, and could speak to the judge on my behalf. My lawyer was very impressed with the case we presented and so was the judge. My case was so well documented I was awarded without having to go in front of the judge. Ronnie never referred me to family ties, from what I was told, they did not use that program in the north county at all. I was living on general assistance and needed every penny I received monthly to survive. I was never declared mentally incompetent and have always been in total control of my financial affairs. I consider myself very lucky because had she not continued to help me everything would have fallen apart because once she was fired I never heard from EOC. I would not have gotten into my house and I wouldn’t have my social security.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 8

    • scorpio2211 says:

      Cindy, maybe Ronnie didn’t want CAPSLO to get their hands on my money, but even if that were so, she wouldn’t have told me. Ronnie never talked bad about EOC, even after she was fired. She told me she would keep helping me, but I also needed to accept and respect whoever was going to be my new case worker because I needed the support of a formal case worker. I guess she never thought EOC would pretend all of Ronnie’s clients dropped of the earth!

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 8

      • Cindy says:

        Thank You for clarifying that you attended an SSI hearing. After learning what has gone on with the CAPSLO clients who receive gov benefits, I was a bit suspicious of your statement about Ronnie taking you to court when you got your SSI benefits. With all the wonderful things that I’ve heard about her, I couldn’t help but wonder if she had spared you some of the details about Trustee appointments but rather, she just straightened it all out for you.

        By the way, I am so pleased to know that you were so well managed and are safe, secure and living on your own. That is how these programs are supposed to work especially when someone is so sick and has no one. Ronnie certainly sounds like she was a God send and I wish there were more CM like her out there. This county would be a much better place with people like Ronnie who work in these programs for the love of the job and the people they serve rather than for the $$ and power. That isn’t to say that there aren’t others like her but I have to wonder if they still have their jobs and if not, why not? Sounds like the one’s who cared have all been replaced.

        Thank You Ronnie and God Bless you scorpio (whoever you are).

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 8

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