Workers say CAPSLO charges needy for donated items, doesn’t track cash

March 1, 2013
Dee Torres

Dee Torres

Keeping them homeless


(Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a series about San Luis Obispo County Homeless Services and the nonprofits managing the program. See CAPSLO’s top salary makers at the bottom of this story.)

Four women who worked for Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo (CAPSLO) have come forward to say that the organization sells donated toiletries and other goods to the needy and homeless but keeps no records of where the cash goes.

The women, who have a combined six decades of employment at CAPSLO, and a half-dozen other former and current staff members say that Homeless Services Coordinator Dee Torres required workers to charge homeless people seeking services to pay for the items that had been donated by businesses.

Only cash was accepted. And, current and former employees said at the end of each day, an envelope with cash from sales, cash donations and gift cards would go into a box for Torres. No one interviewed for this story knows where the money went.

The sales brought in a lot of cash, said Corina Salazar, who worked for CAPSLO for eight years.

“We charged the clients right and left. There was so much money and stuff going through there,” Salazar said.

Torres pressured workers to charge for the toiletries, 30-year CAPSLO employee Estela Bonds said.

“Dee made us sell razors and other things and if we didn’t she would get mad at us,” Bonds said.

CAPSLO CEO, Elizabeth “Biz” Steinberg, denied that there was proof of the practice.

“There is no evidence of this ever occurring,” Steinberg wrote this week in an email to CalCoastNews.

Torres did not return emails from CalCoastNews seeking comment.

Wal-Mart and other companies donate toothbrushes, razors, toothbrushes, socks and clothing to help the homeless.

The items, given for free, are then sold – disposable razors for 25 cents, socks for 50 cents.

Current and former employees said they were not permitted to simply give donated items to the homeless clients for free. Workers weren’t allowed to purchase necessities for the homeless.

Torres fired Bonds after she used her own money to purchase formula for a client’s baby, Bonds said. She had previously been written up for giving a woman diapers.

When CAPSLO can’t fit any more donations in its storage shed, Torres has ordered subordinates to dispose of older items in the trash rather than provide them to the homeless at no cost, said Joette Sunshine, a four-year employee of the nonprofit.

“[Torres] would throw things away before she would give it away for free,” Sunshine said.

Some donations are in the form of gift cards, including some from McDonald’s, Sunshine said. Those cards rarely wind up in the hands of the homeless, she added.

“Typically, the only time gift cards would go to the clients is when they would do chores for Dee,” Sunshine said. “She provided a couple of five-dollar McDonald’s gift cards to clients who helped her count the homeless.”

Elizabeth Steinberg

Elizabeth ‘Biz’ Steinberg

Steinberg criticized CalCoastNews for its reporting.

“It is unfortunate you even mention things like this behind the cloak of ‘sources,'” she wrote in her email to CalCoastNews reporters. “If any of your anonymous sources would like to state their specific claims, [Jim] Famalette (CAPSLO’s COO) will meet or talk to them, and review their claim.”

Peggy Fowler, who worked for CAPSLO for 20 years, says that Steinberg was well aware that Torres had, at times, charged homeless people at the Maxine Lewis Homeless Shelter for items such as plastic ware.

“Biz said she wanted them to stop selling plastic ware and it stopped for a while,” Fowler said.

Employees also voiced concerns over the number of homeless people being tossed out of the shelter for breaking rules such as entering the Prado Day Center on foot through the driveway, raising their voices or having unruly children.

“One man showed up a few minutes early and was suspended for another 30 days,” Fowler said. “Suspended clients would be refused food and services. This just exacerbates the issues. Those on parole who cannot leave do not get a meal increasing the likelihood they will get into trouble.”

Several employees said they informed Steinberg of Torres’ alleged mistreatment of the homeless. Those complaints generally resulted in problems for the person making the complaint.

“People have gone to Biz but they just get in trouble,” Bonds said. “I put a complaint in writing to Biz about Dee’s unprofessionalism. She kicked a woman out [of the shelter] who had two babies. Biz is a nice person; she just doesn’t have time, and she just looks the other way.”

Employees also contend clients on case management regularly complain that monies given to their CAPSLO case managers are not returned in full. These clients are required to provide CAPSLO between 50-70 percent of their non-Social Security income to be held in order to secure a bed in the shelter or an overnight parking space.

“Clients complained all the time that they could not get their money back from CAPSLO,” Bonds said. “There were people who were crying about not getting their money back. Dee would say the clients are liars, and we were not to believe them.”

CAPSLO accepts cash or money orders from clients on general assistance or who have a job.

About 40 percent of adult homeless work at least 20 hours per week.

While numerous clients have claimed that they are asked to leave the money order payee line blank, Steinberg says that is not the case.

“Family Ties is used by some clients and some save self-named money orders with CAPSLO,” Steinberg said in her email. “All are given receipts, and the funds are verified. Clients are encouraged to save funds in order to eventually secure housing.”


CAPSLO top salaries

Keeping Them Homeless, the series.

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

(admin edit: link repair)

“(Dee)Torres said like with any government program, there may be those who take advantage of it” (Last paragraph)..

and I have been saying this all along. No one believed me! Not only can the kicked out clients not get sevices, such as food, but if they are receiving their mail at Prado, they are unable to even pick up their mail! Is that not a Federal offense? How in the hell can a so-called “homeless services” deny people food?

A person many times doesn’t even have to commit an offense. Many times, it is a personal dislike by a staff member. A person that has been suspended from the shelter, is also suspended from the Prado Day Center, meaning they can’t get food, or even pick up their mail.

So, why exactly are there so many homeless here in Happy Town? The more homeless (receiving an income) the more money Dee and company get! The homeless who do not use the homeless services, do not do so because those are the smart ones! Those are the one’s who can see right through Dee and the whole homeless services corruption. Many, a majority, of the homeless, who do not use the services, have been accused by Dee Torres, of being alcoholics, drug addicts, or “have something to hide”, Not True!

Dee Torres seems to be quite busy with her “boyfriend”, that she is unable to even raise her kids in the proper manner!! She was spotted with her kids shopping, who, upon entering the store, nobody would believe the obnoxious behavior of those kids! Who in their right mind would let their kids run through a store?! With her parenting skills, what I saw recently, that alone proves what kind of individual she is!

I’m not finished spreading this gross corruption!

Do we only consider minimum wages when hiring people that work hard to produce the goods and services, the working class? Why is it that the best paying jobs are for taking donations and spending some of it on the needy? I am very confussed, this does not make any sense or cents for most.

Wow, looking at the roster of salaries, it is VERY CLEAR that these so called compassionate liberals helping those less fortunate are really all about setting up a money laundering scheme to transfer tax dollars taken from the producers in society and giving it not to the needy, but the royal political class. Very sad indeed, let the religious agencies handle this, at least there will be less corruption that when the Government gets its hands into it.

I agree with thinkaboutit on this one.

Sorry, the above post landed in the wrong place.

A few pages earlier, thinkabout it posted,

“Thanks for taking the time to post your comment, SLOBIRD. Yes, there should definitely be accountability in all organizations.

What I’m wondering about, though, is liberalgirl’s specific remarks about “all kinds of wrongs and mistreatment of the people” under Collins’ leadership at Social Services. Whether it’s Social Services or anywhere else, I think it’s the responsibility of someone making such public allegations to substantiate them with examples so that we can be clearly informed of the abuses and to initiate any needed investigations. I think that’s fair. Anyone else?”

I agree with that comment.

Thank you, JQ.

I’m still hoping liberalgirl will reconsider her post and follow up with specifics to inform us. Her allegations sound quite serious.

Oh, and i am an extreme Left Winger. So Hill don’t go saying this is a conservative plot. Your degrading behavior transcends political parties or philosophies


Now i understand why Jon Ashbaugh was so hot to outlaw plastic bags and make us pay for paper bags at the grocery store. That was competion for DEE and the gang. He must have been getting a cut from the money the homeless paid DEE for things like bags and forks and the such. Its not enough that he sent the cops out to harrass the homeless that would not pay protection money to Lisa now he wants a piece of the goods and services money. Its the same reason Gibson led the persecution of Dan DeVaul last year….He needed to get more homeless into case management to increase his profits.

Dee, Ashbaugh, Gibson, Hill, Biz, Lisa N, Jan Marx are all like diapers. They need to be changed out and for the same reason.

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