Homeless money guardian unlicensed
February 13, 2013
By KAREN VELIE, JOSH FRIEDMAN and DANIEL BLACKBURN
(Editor’s note: This is the third in a series about San Luis Obispo County Homeless Services and the nonprofits managing the program. See Cliff Anderson’s check stubs and several Social Security records at the bottom of this story.)
Lisa Niesen serves as the head of Family Ties, a private nonprofit charged with protecting the financial interests of hundreds of homeless people in San Luis Obispo County. Most of the income that Family Ties generates goes to pay her salary.
Niesen also is a full-time county employee, serving as chief deputy public guardian and managing finances for the mentally ill and the disabled.
While she is working for the county, she doesn’t need a state license. Her work managing that money is covered by her county position. But when she is handling homeless people’s money, she is supposed to have state-required certification and license. Niesen doesn’t have those.
For years, homeless clients and case managers have complained that their money, placed in trust by the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo (CAPSLO) with Family Ties, has been mismanaged.
Since January 1, 2009, trustees hired by individuals, or families are required to hold a valid license as a professional fiduciary, unless specifically exempt under state law. The law’s purpose is to protect the often meager resources of society’s most vulnerable people.
State law also prohibits government employees from utilizing their offices to support outside endeavors; however, Niesen lists her county government phone number as the contact for Family Ties on her nonprofit’s 990 tax return for 2010.
Local governments have not investigated the practices or the complaints of mismanagement. A lengthy investigation by CalCoastNews shows that a relationship with government officials has resulted in years of complaints of abuse being disregarded.
City and county government officials have consistently supported CAPSLO and its strategies, allegedly aimed at ending homelessness in the county. This includes case management, which consists of requiring homeless residents who utilize overnight services to give 50 to 70 percent of their income to allegedly place the client into housing that rarely or never materializes.
In 2007, a homeless woman, Sherie Rogers, sent an email to a member of the San Luis Obispo County Mental Health Board, the California Department of Corporations and San Luis Obispo City Manager Ken Hampian explaining that CAPSLO case managers require money orders to be handed in — without specifying a recipient. After Rogers moved into housing, she asked for her money orders back, only to be then denied access to the Prado Day center, she wrote in the email.
At the time, the former mental health board member, who asked to remain unidentified for fear of retaliation, told CalCoastNews she forwarded the email to numerous individuals, including CAPSLO administrators.
In the end, there was no investigation into Roger’s allegations.
“Karen Baylor (head of the mental health board) told me to leave it alone… that she (Rogers) is probably mentally ill,” the mental health board member said. “This has bothered me for years.”
When a homeless person complains of issues with CAPLSO’s case management’s handling of their money, the usual response is to claim the client is mentally ill, developmentally disabled, or an addict — and as such should not be believed.
Following CalCoastNews report about Cliff Anderson, a homeless man who questioned the way his Social Security income was handled, CAPSLO officials rebuffed the man’s claims of financial mismanagement. The officials asserted that the 69-year old Anderson is “developmentally disabled.”
Niesen’s Family Ties retains $570 monthly of Anderson’s $970 income. And while Social Security rules consider it fraud to save more than $2,000 of an SSI recipient’s money, Family Ties has retained about $20,000 of Anderson’s income under the guise it will get him into housing. Family Ties apparently cannot account for the money.
In 2011, CAPSLO placed Anderson into housing it owns for several months. During this time, Family Ties paid $335 to CAPSLO for the housing and gave Anderson a weekly check for $65, while holding on to $375 per month, records show.
While CAPSLO officials contend Anderson is not credible, he provided CalCoastNews with detailed Social Security records proving that since June 2009, he has given $41,420 to Family Ties. Anderson also saved his weekly check stubs from Family Ties, which show he is still owed more than $20,000.
Niesen said none of the accounts she manages through CAPSLO contain more than $2,000, and most have only $20 to $30. If there are issues, she contends, it is with CAPSLO’s case managers.
Similarly, CAPSLO’s administration refuses to provide any explanation about how they justify requiring people receiving SSI to save more than $2,000 of their income. Amid numerous complaints about finances, CAPSLO continues to require homeless utilizing overnight services to give a portion of their income to Family Ties.
San Luis Obispo City Council members have adamantly supported CAPLSLO’s case management and have voted to order city police to support the nonprofit’s endeavors. Officers question homeless people who are spotted on certain public streets from which CAPSLO has “barred” homeless clients from walking, riding a bike or parking a vehicle on between 4 p.m. and 8 a.m. Officers reportedly provide CAPSLO with the names of rule breakers — who are then barred from receiving social services from CAPSLO.
Further blurring the lines between local government and CAPSLO were incidences reported last summer when CAPSLO failed to respond to questions about allegations of misdeeds by CAPSLO. Instead, CAPSLO administrators falsely claimed San Luis Obispo’s Director of Public Works Derek Johnson had answered for them.
The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors has one member who sits on the CAPLSO board and another who dates CAPSLO’s Homeless Services Coordinator Dee Torres. CAPSLO receives almost $57 million a year in government grants and funding, a large portion of which requires supervisors’ approval.
In a related situation, Torres’ boyfriend, Supervisor Adam Hill, has been using his elected position to bully advertisers and supporters of CalCoastNews in a campaign to cripple the website. Hill’s war against CCN began several years ago after he learned CCN was investigating allegations of misdeeds by CAPSLO’s homeless services, administered by his girlfriend.
In several instances, Hill’s own emails obtained by CCN have led to cancellations of contracts with businesses advertising on the news website. Hill sent emails to advertisers claiming that CCN reporters have committed crimes. That was followed by a flurry of emails from Hill to county residents asking that they not support CCN advertisers.
Social Security records:
Cliff Anderson’s check stubs from Family Ties and Social Security records showing Family Ties is the payee for Anderson. A record of second social security benefits of Anderson’s that goes to Family Ties and a listing of his SSI payments. Family Ties receives two checks each month from Anderson’s Social Security benefits; a monthly SSI payment and a regular Social Security benefit.