Alleged homeless advocates accused of stealing from the poor

February 4, 2013

Cliff AndersonKeeping them homeless


(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.


Let’s get down to brass tacks here, People. Dee Torres should be fired. Now. If her bosses are not prepared to do that now, then she should immediately be placed on leave without pay until the state or federal governments have a chance to clear her name or not.

Adam Hill, John Ashbaugh, Dan Carpenter, and Bruce Gibson (threw him in there for good measure because he is treating other county staff members unfairly by bringing his mistress back into his office) need to be recalled. Now.


Why doesn’t someone go undercover and put themselves into the system and see for themselves? You can argue back and forth all you want, but until you’ve been there, dealt with this personally, it really is unbelievable how the homeless are treated by the people supposedly helping them. I’ve got stories I don’t even bother telling because they are so outrageous.


As someone who has gone undercover I recommend you have a strong support system to help you through it because after 90 days I couldn’t take it anymore…worst environment I have ever personally been exposed to….I am personally thrilled to see these articles come out and am most thrilled to encourage a particular family that was severely traumatized by staying at this place to come forward and Tell All as part of their healing process….shame on you Dee and anyone that is in bed with you…saddest part to me is that they have misused the churches and many homeless are turned from Jesus because of it….if you are a spiritual member of this town you should be all over this


Quit with the accusations and just give us your story, that is, if you really have one to share.


There will be a time for unveiling. The point of going undercover is to be undercover not to blow it by giving info too soon…go check in yourself and see if you last a week…you will then know for yourself


The fundanomics factor of saving people from their own irresponsible behavior. Smell the money? Smell the sulfur.


What is the salary +benefits of Dee Torres and all these staff people? Is it true that the CAPSLO meetings have their dinners catered? If so, who pays for it and what is the annual cost? Is it enough to turn on the heat on cold nights? Simple questions. What are the answers?


Response to Dee Torres

It is a little disingenuous that you have not had official complaints to Capslo or Family Ties from your homeless clients about missing funds or no lack of information on their SAVINGS Plan. Folks that complain are the “problem” homeless and barred from services. The real question is it just a matter of sloppy management or something much more.

Family Ties – CapSLO Questions:

1. What is CapSLO’s contract/partnership with Family Ties?

2. In your partnership (Dee Torrres’ words) does CapSLO pay fees to Family Ties for services rendered? Family Ties seems to think they have the relationship with Capslo and not the homeless client who have signed up for the SAVING PLAN. Which is it?

3. As your fiduciary responsibility towards your clients does Capslo get monthly, quarterly, yearly statements on client’s individual accounts from Family Ties. And does the homeless client get the same information?

4. Is Family Ties audited? Bonded? A non-profit, for profit?.

5. Do you refer all of your management cases directly to Family Ties without over-site?

6. Do you care?


I want John Ashbaugh and Dan Carpenter RECALLED for the way they have treated the homeless! Who else supports this movement?


First of all, Dee Torres is full of crap.

Fact: Hundreds of homeless people have been promised case management and housing, only to be denied both.

Fact: Case managers at Prado are only “available” to meet with homeless people a few hours a week.

Fact: Homeless people have to wait in line for weeks, only to get a few minutes of face time with a case manager, if they are “lucky.”

Fact: After working with case managers for months, homeless clients are then told by the case managers that they never actually had a formal agreement with the case managers. Then the homeless people are told that they have to reapply for case management and start the whole process over again, which sets tham back more than a year. If the client protests, they are pushed away or banned from services. Proof exists! Many people sleeping on the streets can attest to this! Dozens upon dozens of people! Probably hundreds of people!

Fact: Dee and company only “help” people with disability incomes whom they think they can steal from. If the client shows any hesitation or wisdom, he/she is ignored/marginalized.


Watch out you’ll get a tongue lashing from Ms Torres…..


I am curious as to how you know your “facts.” You are writing anonymously here (as am I) so it seems that for believability, you should provide something more concrete to back them up. Otherwise, they are just your opinions.

I am in a “wait and see” mode on the whole issue because I know enough about CAPSLO from past contact to have doubts that they are intentionally cheating the homeless. They may not be doing a fantastic job but their homeless services budget has been very tight in the past given the scale of what they do and how many people they serve. If there is malfeasance, I am more inclined to think it was due to inadequate procedures &/or under-staffing unless I see real proof to the contrary.


I too am waiting to judge. I have worked professionally with some of the people involved (some I don’t know) and I would hate to think most of this is true. I would hate it much more if it is. It is time for a full disclosure.


Sadly, it is not just my opinion. I have spoken to many of the homeless clients at Prado Day Center and Maxine Lewis Shelter. Almost all of them have told me the same story. They sought housing, were promised housing, were duped, and a year or two later were still without housing. The people doing this to the homeless are despicable.

As for a tight budget and inadequate procedures, just look at the huge amount of money CAPSLO receives; it is no accident that it is disappearing into insiders’ pockets.


So the act that CAPSLO has not come forward with any type of statement or accounting for their “true” facts, because they will provide no accounting of Cliff Anderson’s money and yet point the finger at Lisa Niesen as the fall gal, the fact they have no contract with Lisa Niesen (Famly Ties / County Guaardian) and yet require their clients sign up with FT, the fact that several clients have stated the same information, the facts that they require money orders have “blank payee” with no accounting, and the fact they say there are no charges to the clients for CAPSLO homeless services and yet clients are being charged, what exactly do you want to wait and see. Obviously, this organization is not going to lay their wrongdoing on a table for you to see. Amazing loyalty!


HML is talking truth. Hard to believe how bad this hellish world operates.


Where is Laurel Weir in all of this? I thought she was brought in to overhaul things and implement transparancy. She is awfully quiet. Perhaps Dee Torres and Adam Hill and John Ashbaugh want to keep her that way.

Booty JuJu

Jeebus. If people have been defrauded and money stolen – file a criminal complaint. How complicated is that?

Dee Torres



Dee Torres, please do the honorable things: You should apologize to the public and resign immediately.


I’m in full agreement of that! In fact, so should Adam Hill, John Ashbaugh, and the rest of them! There are a few innocent ones though, and I certainly hope they don’t get caught in this mess!


Unfortunately, thanks to the embezzlement by Dee Torres’ agency, the victims have been defrauded of funds which they need for surviving.

They certainly don’t have funds to retain legal representation.

However, the perps of the crimes against the victims get free legal representation by the city legal counsel.

Pretty neat trick trick Torres and her agency pulled. They committed crimes against the victims they are supposed to protect, and did it in a way that the victims will be unable to take them to court over it.

But, if there is a “good” part about all of this it is that it appears Torres and her agency have defrauded the federal Social Security Administration. That is a crime that, if the perps are convicted, will result in jail time.


Here’s a thought for the open minded: If Dee Torres is telling the truth then what is Cal Coast News?


CCN’s track record is stellar. Dee Torres track record? not so much.

At any rate, she and Lee Niesen need to be put out on administrative leave immediately to prevent destruction of evidence.


They do complain, to CAPSLO, and CAPSLO just says there is not merit to the complaint.