Federal agency starts investigation of Family Ties and Niesen

March 10, 2013

oigKeeping them homeless


(Editor’s note: This is the eighth in a series about San Luis Obispo County Homeless Services and the nonprofits managing the program.)

Federal officials launched a probe of Family Ties, the nonprofit that has been at the heart of a CalCoastNews investigative series into the treatment of the homeless in San Luis Obispo County.

The investigation centers on the activities of Family Ties and its head, Lisa Niesen, since November of last year, Social Security documents show.

The Social Security Administration is referring the case to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to conduct the investigations, the attorney for a former client of the nonprofit said. According to its website, the OIG, based in Washington, D.C., is designed “to prevent and detect waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement” in Social Security Administration programs.

OIG officials will not confirm or deny an active investigation.

But Cliff Anderson, a former client of Family Ties, and his attorney Stew Jenkins, said an employee of SSA informed them last week that the OIG will be asked to investigate how Family Ties is managing its accounts.

An exclusive CalCoastNews investigation reveals that complaints of missing funds with Family Ties go back at least five years, complaints that at the time appear not to have prompted an investigation.

While working as the city coordinator for the Salvation Army, Hildy Gal, a social worker, spoke with a previously homeless man who said he was unable to pay his bills and eat on his meager income. While going over the man’s accounts, Gal said she discovered Family Ties was saving a portion of his income each month even though the man had already been placed in housing.

“He got $200 a month to pay his bills,” Gal said. “He didn’t have enough for food and his electric bills. He didn’t have enough money for anything.”

Gal tried to get Niesen to refund the portion that Family Ties had kept, she said.

“I asked for his money back and Lisa Niesen gave him some back, but not all of it,” Gal said.

Gal then reported those Family Ties issues to Social Security Administration officials, San Luis Obispo County and Transitions Mental Health, she said.

“I was told by a man at Transitions that Lisa Niesen was very powerful and they did not want to cross her,” Gal said.

CalCoastNews began a series on Family Ties and the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo (CAPSLO) after learning Anderson had signed over more than $40,000 in Social Security payments to the nonprofit over a four year period.

CAPSLO, the primary provider of homeless services in the county, requires its clients in case management to provide 50 to 70 percent of their income to CAPSLO or — if a person is on Social Security — to make Family Ties their representative payee.

According to Social Security documents, Family Ties manages bank accounts and makes payments on behalf of its clients. CAPSLO case managers then prepare monthly budgets and are charged with assuring clients’ needs are met. When a client wants to make a request for money or an accounting of their funds, they go to their case manager.

In 2009, Cliff Anderson agreed to make Family Ties his representative payee after becoming homeless in the aftermath of a fire at his apartment.

In late January, Anderson asked his CAPLSO case manager for money to buy a pair of shoes. When rebuffed, he asked for an accounting of his remaining funds, release from case management and for the return of his remaining monies.

Niesen, president of Family Ties and San Luis Obispo County’s chief deputy public guardian, has not returned any money to Anderson though CAPSLO officials promise that people on case management will have their money returned to them within 24 hours.

As Anderson’s payee, Niesen is required to assure funds are spent on a timely basis for a client’s ongoing needs. Federal laws require that people on SSI disability save no more than $2,000.

Because Family Ties failed to follow federal laws and retained more than $5,000 of Anderson’s money while serving as his fiduciary, his Social Security disability benefits have recently been suspended. As a result of his canceled benefits and Niesen’s failure to provide him his funds, Anderson is unable to pay for food or lodging.

Jenkins and another concerned citizen provided funds for two months rent and a handful of county residents have provided the former chef with groceries and other necessities.

Earlier this week, through her attorney Joesph Diehl, Niesen provided CalCoastNews a register of Anderson’s Social Security income and checks written. The documents provided by Niesen were only a portion of those requested by CalCoastNews.

According to Niesen’s records, she returned $4,875 of Anderson’s money to Social Security on Feb. 16, even though Social Security does not report receiving the money until Feb. 26.

The register shows $403 left in Anderson’s Family Ties account.

On Feb. 4, the same day CalCoastNews first reported that Family Ties had more than $2,000 of Anderson’s money, Niesen wrote a check out of his account for a burial plot that she later voided, according to the register.

Purchasing a burial plot requires the client’s permission, an authorization Anderson said he did not give.

“What a kick in the pants,” Anderson said. “My family knows I want to be cremated and my ashes are to be sprinkled out on the family farm.”

Keeping Them Homeless, the series.

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Ironic, all the CCN sturm und drang concerning CAPSLO & Family Ties for a little over a month now, rattling everyone’s cage, and it turns out that it was a lowly social worker, Hildy Gal, whose concern and unselfish actions on behalf of a fellow citizen spurred the Social Security Administration to open an investigation.

One person, caring, unselfish. More powerful than the sum total of local media organizations!

Thank you, Ms. Gal.

Perhaps the coverage by CCN helped Ms. Gal take action. She is indeed caring and courageous. Her actions, the bravery of former CAPSLO staff who are coming forward and the reporting by CCN are complimentary each effort is vital to bringing about justice. The actions of many standing together add to the potential to get justice for these homeless people who are being stolen from, intimidated, etc. while those in power turn a blind eye.

CCN didn’t publish until February. The SSA officially started looking in November. I don’t see a nexus to CCN reportage, unless you think they were as obsessed with Adam Hill as the writers here seem to be.

So far we only know of Ms. Gay’s efforts, unless you want to do a little time traveling.

Pffft. You’re getting to sound like Bob Cuddy, dude.

Der R. Hodin……..please tell me who in the world would be obsessed with the spineless lil Adam Hill???….well except for Dee Torres ? They are both legends in their own deceitful minds. ….Politics as USUAL.

thanks for the clarification, Karen, VERY sad that it took 5 years for this grievous issue to come to light! I still say that the more who stand up and speak out, the more likely the injured parties will get some justice.

Reality Check,

One has to hope that justice will be served. However, with the fact that one of our local prosecutors involved himself in an auction of an olive grove in north county that was not held publicly and went to one of his personal friends I won’t be holding my breath. However, hats off to Jenkins and Rizzo for helping out – a true credit to the profession. Get em Stew.

I anticipate, the near future, there will be a lot of out-of-town new readers here at CCN.

Five years. It would be interesting to look back over that time period and see how many homeless men and women have died while living hand to mouth, in the weeds, behind garbage dumpsters, empty condemned barns, creeks and even cars, while being denied services because of some minor infraction of some idiotic rule that’s been handed down from on high by her highness Dee Torres.

The next one to die will be the poor woman living along Orcutt Road right now, that Karen, Josh and Congalton were talking about last night.

Homeless people are dying every week of exposure or perhaps just a broken spirit and the loss of a will to live. There was an 82-year-old man who was found dead in his car in the Rite Aid parking lot in Morro Bay just a week or two ago.

There are two things that I would never wish upon my worst enemy — jail and homelessness.

And in SLO town the homeless face both daily.

COnsider the carousel that these people get stuck on. They get cited for vagrancy or trespassing or camping on the streets, creeks or in vehicles. They go to jail, then are let out to go where? A few days later they earn the ire of another citizen who calls the cops and they get arrested again, or they go to court and get time served and a fine, only they got no money, so now they’ve got a warrant and here come the police again…

And don’t forget that the county went after Dan Devaul for helping these people outside the “establishment” and harassed him into submission, took away control of his own land and demonized him as some kind of criminal.

He may have charged these people to stay there — either cash or work — but it was apparently nothing compared to the amount of money CAPSLO and Family Ties are getting away with taking. Shameful.

He may have had people sleeping in sheds but they were well made sheds, clean, dry and no doubt much warmer than the creeks. And no one was pounding on their doors at 4 a.m. telling them to get up and get out, then citing them for basically being homeless and destitute. Shameful thing to be happening in Happytown USA, isn’t it?

In sales, there is a saying: “It’s the person who goes back five times who gets the account.”

I think Hildy Gal must have gone beyond the “five times” rule to get SSA to refer the case to OIG. I can’t thank her enough for doing so.

I meant “poor souls”

I understand that most on this site are concerned.

I understand that most on this are sincere.

I understand that most on this are resolute.

I applaud you for being part of the discourse.

However, being concerned, sincere and resolute does not mean that you are correct in your actions.

Vetted fact will clearly illuminate the current situation at CAPSLO and Family Ties.

Let us all calmly wait for those facts before making any decisions.

As you all wish this issue be resolved in a responsible manner, then you are best served by CIVILLY insisting upon an impartial investigation; and not resort to throwing nasty, incendiary and profoundly personal slurs at our duly elected decision makers. You’ll catch more flies with honey instead of vinegar.

Wait what? You say “All information presented by CCN is second hand from unnamed (and more importantly not vetted) sources.”

Yet now you are all “Let us all calmly wait for those facts before making any decisions.”

It’s called blowing smoke…..

Where is Jim Famalette’s apology for not getting Cliff his money? Why do you not want to talk about the actual homeless?

The capslo homeless program is broken and needs fixing or Cliff (who is not a second hand source, nice slur there) is being punished for asking questions, asking for HIS money?

Pick one MrM because Cliff tried “Honey” and he rebuffed and never received his money.

My guess is MrM will not reply to the issues regarding Cliff, dealing with actual facts is not something MrM appears to want to answer.

QUOTING MRM: “As you all wish this issue be resolved in a responsible manner, then you are best served by CIVILLY insisting upon an impartial investigation; and not resort to throwing nasty, incendiary and profoundly personal slurs at our duly elected decision makers. You’ll catch more flies with honey instead of vinegar.”

PFFFT. Yeah, you’d like that, woudn’t you? If those supporting the people upon whom fraud was committed by Liesen, Torres, Steinberg and others had to kiss kiester to those balding harridans while they continue to abuse their power in attacking those SLO who can least protect themselves.

Should we just tie up the homeless and let Dee, Lisa and Biz sell tickets to use them as punching bags?

That is what you are asking…basically, that we not defend vigorously Cliff and others “served” by CAPSLO and Family Ties, allowing the frauds at those facilities to steal their Social Security funds, and live the high life off Social Security benefits of their clients.

I just BET you’d like good manners to bind our hands behind us in fighting against this pervasive fraud being perpetrated by SLO politicians and their “friends,” while the likes of Adam Hill–starting a FACEBOOK account (like a freaking 12 year old, for heaven’s sake), with the help of his campaign publicity hoods, try to use his political influence to shut down CCN by attacking its support from the business community.

Oh, YEAH. We’re going to just sit here, with our hands folded in our laps, saying, “Ms. Torres, may I?” before we post.

Think again.

Thank you, PP5. I appreciate you kind words and public support.

Here’s the deal with Anonymice: As long as all of you remain anonymous posters on an Internet blog, nothing will happen because you’re so easily dismissed. If anything is to be done, you (all of you!) must step forward publicly. Write to the Supes, write to the SLO City Council and express your concern. Attend meetings and speak in public comment. If you own a business and advertise locally, make sure you let The Tribune and New Times and KSBY know you want coverage of these issues. If you don’t advertise, send those emails, too, as readers/viewers. Do something. Don’t stay anonymous.

Meanwhile, Karen will be back on the radio Tuesday at 5:05. Tune in and hear what she has to say. Call in and ask questions. Thanks!

Hi Dave,

I have contacted KSBY. They seem to be as bad as what Thee Tribune has turned into as far as local reporting.

Forget any local TV news outside of a major market. Totally irrelevant.

In case you issed it Karen was on KYNS 1340 on Friday and talked about all CCN stories, she will be on again this Friday at noon. The podcast is available at the “Talk is Cheap” link at the top of the CCN homepage.

It looks like the latest ‘Talk is Cheap’ podcast is 12/14/12.

So it will be available when?


You get what you pay for, I suppose.

Like your comment

Dave, your stance about posters using their birth names for posting is that of a very small majority of people who use the internet.

Indeed, “screen names” of one sort or another has been used for centuries. Should we have dismissed the Watergate information because it came from a source who, at first, we only knew as “Deep Throat”?

Truth is not a popularity contest, nor is it tied to the person who expresses it. It doesn’t matter WHO is posting it. The information presented is either false or true. Either way, the person’s name means nothing. It is the information being presented which is in question.

I believe your stance on people’s use of screen names for posting is an ad hominem and red herring fallacy, attempting to dismiss anyone who doesn’t meet your very unusual and arbitrary standards.

Love your show but, on this, and a few other things, you are not correct. Still, you bat a pretty danged good average.

It took one unknown man, with a moniker of “Deep Throat,” to bring down Richard Nixon.

So much for your theory about the power of anonymous sources and information.

give a man a mask and he will speak truth so said Oscar Wilde, I agree about the value of anonymity even if some one can tell outrageous slanders a genuine whistle blower can tell the truth, and at the end of the day that is what satisfies

Dan Gilmore at the Guardian had this to say about the matter,”What we should all fear is what too many in power want to see: the end of anonymity entirely. Governments, in particular, absolutely loathe the idea that people can speak without being identified… I fear there will soon be widespread laws disallowing anonymous speech, even in America.

You’re right Dave… It’s time for all of us to come out of our comfort zones and stand up for whats right. I don’t care what a person’s ideology is, locally that line is blurring more and more each day; I do know if we stay divided and silent we will see more and more of this government corruption. The mainline media won’t save us. The days of investigative national and statewide journalism is dead and will remain so until they wake up and catch up. This is why a weblog like CCN and a local talk show like Dave’s is so important.

Count time, count time, return to your dorm for count time. Good luck ladies, enjoy the quality time and think of it as a chance to catch up on your reading.

For Mr. M: Speaking of apologies, if the allegations about Family Ties pan out, will I get an apology from the county supervisor who called me a “pimp” on the Internet? Will that same county supervisor also apologize for lying to Jim Duenow for what I said about him on the radio? Will the father and son bloggers out in Los Osos take down all that crazy shit they made up about me–the stuff they refused to verify? How about the folks on Topix.com who posted vulgar slurs about my wife? Do you think they’ll apologize?

I can only ask you the question that I ask weekly on the radio: If there’s nothing to hide, why are these folks so intent on killing the messenger? By all means, let’s see what the officials find out, but let us also protect the right of those of us in the local media who wish to raise legitimate concerns about established institutions.

I don’t know about all those other folks, Dave, but I’ll apologize to you.

In the past I shunned your show because I thought you came across as arrogant and rather whiny. Plus the “anonymice cheep cheep” comment bugged me.

BUT ya know….I gave Hometown Radio another chance a few months back and honestly I enjoy your show now. You and the new guy Joe are a good team and you’re about the only media outlet besides CCN who has been mentioning these local–for the lack of a better word–“scandals”. From what I’ve heard, you’ve gone out of your way to be fair and wait for enough evidence to come in before you give air time to various stories. In hindsight, I appreciate that. I think you’re probably on friendly terms (or used to be) with some of the parties involved in this latest “scandal” so it probably puts you in a rather awkward spot.

The Fibune’s not a place for investigative reporting anymore and sometimes KSBY will mention stuff…but I appreciate your show, Dave, because you usually let folks from all political angles come on the air and say their two cents worth.

Oh–also I notice you posted at 2:08am so your insomnia apparently hasn’t left you. Bummer! Anyway, please accept my apology and don’t be so surprised with these internet guys who are trying to “kill the messengers”. There have been some rocks unturned and the evil deeds of many high-ranking urchins are being exposed! Hometown Radio and CCN have been making a great pair as they continue to expose the truth.

I’m still waiting for Jim Famalette to apologize to Cliff Anderson for not getting his money in 24 hours as Jim said they did.

So ether the capslo homeless housing program is broken or Cliff Anderson is being punished for asking questions as part of his free speech.

Pick one.

Or Biz apologizing for writing that they never charge for donated items?

It seems that Biz Steinberg has been given kind of a free pass in all of this. That is something I cannot understand. Who anointed her the Baby Jesus?

Honestly Dave, to the public, anyone who calls names or comes up with ridiculous accusations against ” the messenger”, is just telling everyone how close to the truth you really are! It seems whenever the Truth is about to be revealed the guilty people panic! Name calling is typical. What left do they have? Everyone knows it shows immaturity and inability to contend with adversity. People have a right to know who/what they voted for (BOS). Any adult capable of thinking should see through the absurdness of how this Supervisor handles things.

Started at the top a few years ago. The Wilcox/Edge case was just tip of the iceberg. This county is infested with corruption. Keep telling the TRUTH! We appreciate hearing it!

Dave, i don’t think there will be an apology coming from the likes of MrM.

Just like Bob Cuddy never apologized to those who he called “Swamp Gas” during the LisaSolomonGate fiasco.

He made himself look like an absolute red-nosed fool, and he never once (to my knowledge) apologized.

…which makes this article the ninth, so one of those isn’t part of the series of eight?

And your point is ?

I don’t have the belief that some others have, but I am encouraged by this news. Hopefully, it is real and it will be done in a timely manner – to me that would be no more than 60 days. And I would like to believe that CCN will keep us all informed and do whatever is possible to push this along quickly.

The citizens of this county deserve no less.

I couldn’t be more pleased with this news! This made my evening.